Market Forces: Sale on Sperm From Red-Headed Men?

There’s really no doubt that in many ways the fertility industry operates like any other market driven business.   Laws of supply and demand surely do apply.   That which everyone wants comes dear.   If there’s too much of something, the prices must fall.   It’s just that all this becomes somewhat more problematic when the supply and demand curves pertain to human gametes that may carry particular traits.  This is a topic that has come up here before in a variety of situations.

So here is today’s news:  One of the world’s largest sperm banks is full-up on sperm from red-headed men–unless they happen to have brown eyes.   Apparently the available stock exceeds the demand.   Surprisingly there is also a glut of blue-eyed blond sperm–but that’s because the bank is in Denmark, I suppose.   Now if you were a brown-eyed blond man, that would be a different story.

It’s a little weird to think about this as a market driven dynamic, but at least these traits are pretty clearly genetically heritable.  As I recall, red-hair is recessive, so if you have red hair you very likely have two red-haired genes and will pass one on to offspring.   Surely it is even odder when the premium is for things like “sense of humor.”   I”m not at all convinced that sense of humor is any sort of simply determined genetic trait.

But at the same time it is intriguing to think about the market forces at work here.   Presumably most people who would prefer a red-haired provider would do so because one of the people planning to parent has red hair.  Red hair isn’t all that common and so the demand for red haired people might be small to begin with.

By contrast I find myself wondering about the preference for blond hair.  Given the number of people who dye their hair blond and the general mystique (in white american pop culture, anyway) associate with blond hair, I would guess that the demand for blond providers is high while the supply is not so large.  After all, dying your hair will not make you into a blond sperm provider.    But the clinic has a surplus of blue-eyed blond providers because it is Denmark–a nation full of blue-eyed blonds.  I’d be surprised if many clinics in the US have the same problem.

There are also interesting cultural forces at work.  I’ve read that it is (relatively speaking) less acceptable to be a gamete provider within Japanese culture.  Thus, Japanese gamete providers are rare.  Even if the demand for Japanese gametes is small (because the same cultural forces discourage the use of third-party gametes) the supply may be insufficient to meet the demand.  Thus, a premium might be paid for sperm from a Japanese man.

As I think about it, it seems likely that there might generally will be a premium for minority rather than  majority characteristics.  I’m not sure that’s true because smaller population means both less supply and less demand.  But still, it’s a guess I’d be willing to make.   It might depend on the relative cultural resistance to being a gamete provider vs. a user of third-party gametes, and given the stigma attached to infertility, my guess would be that there is less resistance on that end.





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