May 20, 2007
Average Egg Donor Price Over Four Thousand Dollars

An article in the New York Times reports on the prices in the egg donor market in the United States.

A survey published this month in the journal Fertility and Sterility, “What Is Happening to the Price of Eggs?” found that the national average compensation for donors was $4,217. At least one center told the authors of the paper that it paid $15,000. Many centers did not respond.

Though laws prohibit the sale of transplant organs, sperm donors have always received small payments, and prospective parents in the United States are allowed to compensate women for their far greater expenditure of time and energy. (Many countries, including Canada and Britain, do prohibit payments to egg donors.)

I am disappointed that the average payment is so low. Why? Because if the buyers were chiefly going for the highest IQ egg donors (e.g. Ivy League, CalTech, MIT, and Stanford undergrads) then the average payment would be in the tens of thousands. Prospective parents will get smarter kids with much greater earning potential and lower risks of crime and other problems if they pay the extra money it takes to use smarter donors. The money spent up front will pay itself back many times over in the long run.

Interesting facts about regional variations come out in the abstract of this article "What is happening to the price of eggs?".

Over half SART clinics (53%, 207 out of 394) responded to the survey, with 191 (92%, 191 out of 207) having a donor oocyte program. The national average for standard donor compensation was $4,217, with a maximum payment average of $4,576. Geographic location affected compensation rates, with highest reported standard mean compensation in the East/Northeast ($5,018) and West regions ($4,890), and lowest in the Northwest ($2,900).

Why is the Northwest of the United States such a bargain would the buyers? Are more women in the Northwest willing to donate for free? Or are the Northeast and West buyers more discriminating and going for relatively smarter (and therefore more expensive) donors at higher frequencies?

Countries that prohibit payments to donors aren't taking a moral high road. The women who donate are taking health risks and might even be aging their ovaries more rapidly due to the effects of the hormones used to stimulate egg release. Plus, the lack of a market means the higher IQ women are going to be less available for donation and hence the average IQ quality and other quality of egg donors will be lower. Why contribute to lower intellectual quality of future generations by prohibiting a market in donor eggs?

Now for a repeat of predictions I've made in the past: The development of cheap DNA testing techniques will increase the desirability of using egg donors. The ability to identify women whose genes possess the best genetic alleles for one's preferences will make the use of donor eggs into a way to produce babies with more desired qualities. Testing will lower risks and at the same time improve quality of outcome.

Cheap full genome genetic testing will also cause a much greater spread in donor egg prices. Women who are now contenting themselves with $2000 or $3000 eggs will, in the future, know how much they are giving up by going with cheaper eggs. I expect a drop in demand for lower quality eggs and an even larger boost in demand for highest quality eggs.

Some of you may wish to quibble with my use of terms like "lower quality" and "highest quality" in reference to donor eggs. Granted, there is no single accepted standard on what constitutes genetic quality. But that does not matter. Each buyer will bring their own personal values and preferences to their decision-making processes and they will choose among genetic features based on their own judgments on what constitutes high quality. In other words, the market will define quality and will do so in each potential transaction.

Since people have no shortage of preferences in what they like and dislike in other people and in what they'd like their offspring to become (or not become - e.g. afflicted with diseases and disorders, criminal, crazy) I expect that given the ability to choose among donors based on detailed genetic information people will find many reasons to discriminate between the genetic profiles of lists of potential egg donors.

Cheap genetic testing is not the only forthcoming technological advance that will cause an increase the use of high priced donor eggs. In the comments of a previous post David Friedman noted that science fiction novelist Robert Heinlein described in his novel Beyond This Horizon a way to avoid the uncertainty of not knowing which of each chromosome pair will get passed down to offspring. Start with a cell that has the full genome of a donor. Under controlled conditions induce it to turn into two eggs. Then genetically test one of the eggs. From the test results and from a genetic sequencing of the entire genome one can deduce which of each chromosome pair is in the undestroyed egg of the two egg pair.

With automation of microfluidic devices this process could get repeated hundreds or thousands of times until an egg with the desired chromosomes was found. That egg could then be fertilized. The same process could be performed to create the sperm used to do the fertilization. This will enable prospective parents to get the better genetic variations from donors and hence increase the odds that use of donors will produce much higher quality results in offspring. That will increase the attractiveness of using donor cells.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 May 20 01:47 PM  Bioethics Reproduction

Robert Schwartz said at May 20, 2007 3:55 PM:

Heinlein's novel Beyond This Horizon is fascinating. One of the few to truly explore what a complete mastery of genetics might mean for society. It was one of the first that he wrote and shows traces of his commitments to the social credit theory of the 1930s, which was crackpot economic theory that had many followers in the western US and Canada. It also, IIRC, used the number 48 for the number of human chromosomes, a number that was not corrected to 56 until the late 1950s.

rsilvetz said at May 21, 2007 2:31 AM:

I sure as hell hope that you typoed... the last time I looked humans had 46 chromosomes...

Mats-Erik Pistol said at May 22, 2007 3:19 AM:

The price of eggs will decrease to close to zero when we learn how to generate eggs from stem cells. This can already be done for sperm and it is only a matter of time (months ?) before it can be done for eggs. There will be no need for conventional cloning after this can be done and fertility clinics will have a revolutionary tool at their disposal. I forsee that many couples will choose children outside their own germline, despite having the ability to get children. At that time designer children will be ordinary stuff. Still subject to evolutionary selection since the traits people choose give a selective pressure. That people will choose high IQ is less certain. Most people will choose athletic ability according to the statistics I have looked at. Nobody will select for low IQ though so the few that do select for high IQ will give an evolutionary pressure upwards for IQ. A few will aim for the highest possible IQ which will give some pretty amazing future children. Imagine Garry Kasparov as a father and a Polgar sister as mother or Saharon Shelah as father and Marilyn vos Savant as mother.
The advances that are taking place in fertility treatments and early humans is not fully appreciated. One example. The earliest time when a premature baby can be brought to term outside the uterus is now about 24 weeks and earlier infants have been saved. The time that a fertilised egg can be kept alive in a "test-tube" increases every year although I do not know the record. There will be a time when these times overlap and a uterus will not be needed any more for children to be created.
Before this time surrogate mothers must be used, eg for women without uterus. Since surrogate mothers have a tendency to keep their babies I suggest pigs as surrogate mothers. My friends think it is a politically sensitive issue and the birth video will be unusual. However I am fairly convinced it can be done using immunocompromised pigs and such have been bread.

Bob Badour said at May 22, 2007 9:43 AM:


I think you are overlooking the cost of education. Granted, expectations for education costs will change, but until the cost of an exceptional education comes down, many parents will hesitate to breed exceptionally intelligent kids.

I expect parents today will shoot merely for "above average" and thereby shift the median IQ up only slightly.

Automating education will have a eugenic effect.

Randall Parker said at May 22, 2007 8:52 PM:

Mats-Erik Pistol,

I agree that egg prices will come way down when eggs can be made from normal cells. Though some women with highly unique and desired DNA sequences will be able to sell their normal cells for big bucks.


Genius kids are cheap to educate. It is the 115-140 IQ kids that need expensive educations. The 160+ IQ kids will be educable by given them college texts and books. They'll be able to read advanced math texts as easily as you or I can read a novel.

Jerry Martinson said at May 22, 2007 11:28 PM:

It may be costly to educate children in an elite school, however in many areas of the country, especially the west coast and the upper midwest, there are elite schools still within the financial reach of nearly everyone along the financial spectrum. Last time I checked most of the University of California and other public PAC10/Big10/similar schools were still attendable by most bright kids, albeit with some occasional kinks in financing. While many of these public schools may not be the best in the fine arts they offer a pretty darn good bargain for those who get professional degrees. It still costs a lot but much of the cost of attending these schools is subsidized so its hard for me to see why this would be a major disincentive for parents to want to have smart kids. The tuition costs at most state universities is cheaper than the room and board and far cheaper than the opportunity cost of lost work. I feel pretty confident that when my kids grow up they (and I) will be able to afford to put them through one of the University of California schools if they have the aptitude for it. However, if they want to go to Stanford or a similarly priced private school they'll have to marry into money first.

Hopefully future technology will make delivering some of the early BS-level curriculum less expensive as much of it could be done using the internet. Maybe this will counteract the recent trend of states shifting more of the tuition costs onto the students. Ideally this will also allow for more of the early BS-level curriculum to be done at a younger age (we already see some of this with the AP tests) so that the opportunity costs of college are lower. Opportunity costs are always going to be the biggest cost of college even though it is often discussed the least.

Are healthy eggs really going to be so easy to produce and manipulate? Far off in the future anything is possible I guess but in the near term? I don't know much about this field, but this seems like a bit too much of niche market to attract significant investment.

Perhaps a cheaper and easier, if morally repugnant, method of achieving somewhat same Gattaca thing would be to try to fertilize as many eggs as possible, plant them in the womb, and then do amnio to use as a guide to select the best one and abort the rest. This would essentially be Post-implantation genetic diagnosis instead of Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or the ideal pre-fertilization genetic diagnosis that egg replication technology could enable . Correct me if I'm wrong but this already kind of happens today since fertility treatments often cause excessive multiples but I believe today the criteria for "cherry picking" is assessment of placental placement and viability rather than the genes. I know this is ethical wildfire in our culture but I'm sure there are other regions of the world where this would seem like an acceptable idea.

Brie said at November 5, 2007 10:41 AM:

We forget that most of the people who can afford to buy eggs, or reproduce in this highly technical fashion, can most likely afford to put their children in private schools anyway.

Kami said at January 7, 2008 4:48 PM:

I think what we will find is that we are not as close to defining how our genes create our traits as we think we are. The environment can turn on or turn off genes (see the study of epigenetics) and we are discovering that even the "junk" DNA not part of the 46 chromosomes has an impact on who we are.

You are also forgetting how highly people value their own particular traits. Most people aren't looking for a genius or the next great artist - they are looking for someone like themselves.

Elixabeth said at January 6, 2009 4:53 AM:

I'm not sure if reading math texts is as easy as a novel but I did find it much easier to read math books then to understand my dad when he tried to explain calculus when I was in high school. He just didn't have a very good idea of how to teach. And I agree with the above poster. If you have an inventors/ entrepreneurs/ creators mentality, you don't really need to pay for a fancy school as the whole environment is a school no matter where you are. Public schools are a much better investment at this point then most private colleges outside of Harvard- which does give you a lot of name brand privileges as people just assume you are smart and you don't have to advertise. You see, while there are some brilliant people who go to Harvard and the other ivies there are a lot of people there for the affirmative action program for the rich. But what else is new? Money and intelligence have always gone together they have natural interests in trading. The same is true of money and beauty or exceptional abilities of any kind really.

On other private colleges, I suppose they provide value its just I never saw the point in paying almost as much for a small private college (as Harvard), if you don't get the university branding. Then again my SAT scores were closer to ivy average so I wasn't really wowed by the private college environment. I switched out of it partially because I thought they were ripping off my parents as it was more expensive then the state school and I was not learning a lot from the environment, which left me feeling like I was the diversity the school was offering its students and not sure why I was paying for it.

Ann said at October 27, 2009 2:03 PM:

People do not get donor eggs to make a perfect baby. Women want to use their own eggs. I can not because I am the carrier of a genetic defect. I can not afford IVF without taking out a loan and being in debt for a long time. Most women get donor eggs because of their age.

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