From the Market for Eggs to the Market for Children

I’ve just done a whole string of posts about the market for human eggs.   There’s more to be said there, no doubt, but in the meantime this item caught my eye.  

It’s from The Economist and it has a great title:  Discount Babies.   It doesn’t suggest that there should be a market on which children are bought and sold.   Instead it examines the actual pricing of adoption.   Here’s a snippet from the post which gives a good sense of the point.  (I would credit the author but I do not see a name attached.)  

I recently had lunch with NYU Stern School economist Allan Collard-Wexler, who has estimated adoption price sensitivity. He found just how much adoption fees are sensitive to the race and gender of a baby. It’s about $8,000 cheaper to adopt a black baby than a white or Hispanic child and girls tend to cost about $2,000 more than boys.

Now keep in mind that while money changes hands in adoptions, we insist that no one is buying or selling the child.   It’s quite clear and generally agreed that commodifying children is unacceptable.   By contrast, as the earlier discussions on the egg market make clear, commodifying eggs or gametes is acceptable to some (me included.)   In this regard the adoption “market” and the egg market are different. 

But there’s a significant way in which the same issues are raised here as are raised with the more obvious market for eggs–the role of consumer preference.   Recall that the ASRM says it is not appropriate to offer compensation based on individual characteristics of the egg provider.   Assuming this is reasonable in principle (and I’ve touched on some ways in which I am not sure it is) it is apparently not very realistic in practice.   At least one recent study documents instances where the ASRM guidelines are apparently breached. 

Now consider this recent study on adoption.  Here’s an area where we generally agree that commodification is a bad thing.    And yet even so, apparently varying preferences of prospective adoptive families lead to differential costs.  

Now of course, it’s interesting to think about why preferences run the way the do.  Why are girls more in demand than boys?    Why are Hispanic children more in demand than African-American children?   That’s one of the questions the authors of the underlying study address.    It’s also one I’m going to put aside for now.

Perhaps it is because I am not an economist, but what is striking to me is that the apparent preferences of prospective adoptive parents find their way into the calculus of adoption even where it is agreed there should be no market. 

I suppose I’m growing doubtful that there is any way to eliminate the preferences from the equation.    And if we cannot get them out of the adoption arena, which is assertedly not a market, then it seems fanciful to think that we can get them out of the egg/sperm/gamete market.   Short of saying you are assigned a child or a gamete randomly, which I don’t think anyone really advocates, people will always have preferences and will always be making choices.   Maybe it is better to face up to this and manage it rather than insist that we eradicate preferences.


One response to “From the Market for Eggs to the Market for Children

  1. The biggest reason for the disparity is probably that most adopters are White, and most adopters want same-race children. Remember, these are domestic adoptions, so lots of the rich Whites who are OK with mixed-race families are not included because they adopt internationally.

    Without getting all the way into the economists’ methods, it appears this paper exhibits a very typical mistake: Because a price difference exists between two different items, the price difference shows the reason people act the way they do in their purchases. In fact, the price difference does not necessarily show the preferences of the buyers, unless you assume (as economists often do, theoretically) that the prices perfectly reflect customer preferences. I’m not trying to diminish the extent of racism out there, of course — the evidence for that is not hard to find, in this or other arenas.

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