I suppose media begets more media? Something like that must be true. On top of the NYTimes article that inspired my post a couple of days ago, comes this from ABC news. I’d guess this is a print version of something that aired on TV. Again, the topic is compensation for women who sell eggs for ART. But there’s a slightly different spin to this article–starting with the catchy headline: More Money for Blondes?
The article makes several different points that strike me as interesting. For example, the title suggests that blonde women can get more money for their eggs than not-blonde women. To research this, ABC sent some employees out into the market place and at least one (a blonde) was told that her eggs were worth more.
It isn’t exactly clear to me that this is true–it doesn’t sound like anyone saw an actual schedule of compensation that backs it up. Obviously if it isn’t really true, it isn’t all that interesting. So let’s assume it is true for the moment.
The next question is why might this be true? Why would eggs from women with particular characteristics (say blonde women) be worth more? (I’m going to stick with hair color here because I think (but do keep in mind that I am not an expert) that hair color is basically genetically determined. This does not mean that if you buy an egg from a blonde women you will necessarily have a blonde child, but a blonde donor will increase the chances of a blonde child.)
So why would eggs from blonde women be worth more? Basic economics would suggest it would be because there is a greater demand for those eggs or a lesser supply or both.
Now there are at least two reasons why there might be greater demand, both of which are suggested in the ABC piece. First, people might just want blonde-haired children. Perhaps this is so. There’s certainly enough advertising around (or was) that suggests being blond is better. (I will date myself, but I remember both “If I’ve only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde” and “Blondes have more fun.”) This is the designer baby rational.
Alternatively, you could assume people want a child who will resemble the woman who will be the child’s mother. It’s clear that this sort of family resemblance is important to lots of people. This means that lots of people actually wouldn’t want eggs from blonde women. But blonde women would. This is the family resemblance rational.
As between these two rationals I’m more inclined towards the latter, but I confess I have no evidentiary basis for it. I’ve never seen any studies of how people select among gametes. But the family resemblance rational makes much more intuitive sense to me and I’ve also seen it at work a number of times. By contrast, I’ve never heard of an instance where people actually preferred blonde hair on what are essentially esthetic grounds. It’s also perfectly possible, of course, that both rationals are at work at the same time.
With all this said, what might explain a blonde premium? Is it possible that there are more blonde women out there seeking to buy eggs, hence a greater demand for eggs, and hence a higher price? Or is there a reason why blonde women would be less likely to sell their eggs than other women, thus diminishing the supply? I’m not sure, but I’m left with the sense that the idea of a blonde premium fits with the idea of the designer baby.
In fact, I think the “designer baby” label is unfair. I suspect virtually all people who purchase gametes shop selectively. To take the most obvious example, if a single-race couple is planning to have a child, I suspect they typically select gametes that match their race. I don’t suppose many people find this shocking.
But consider this: Different cultures (and cultures are often associated with races) have different ideas about the propriety of selling gametes. It would seem to follow that there are few donors from some groups. Thus, if a couple from within that group wanted gametes, they might have to pay a premium to get it.
I suppose what I mean to say here is that I can see how you would end up with differential pricing. I’m not sure it’s always a bad thing. It is telling–and I’d really like to know if there is a premium paid for gametes from blondes.
There’s a couple more points I wanted to make, but this is quite long enough. I also noticed that the ABC story references a recent report from the Hastings Institute. This looks like it might be a credible scientific work rather than pop news. It also might explain the sudden flurry of news as various media outlets scramble for a marketable angle. It’s worth my taking the time to read it a bit more carefully before commenting on that. So there will be yet more to come on this. Stay tuned.