Why Not Egg Futures?

Older women often find themselves too old to have kids, and regretting it. Such women would have gained by freezing some eggs when they were younger. But when younger, they didn’t think they’d ever want kids, or thought the issue could wait.

Such women might be helped by an egg futures business, paid to take on this risk for them. Such a business could buy eggs from women when young, freeze them, and sell them back to these same women when old.

Of course, to compensate for the wait and risk that the women wouldn’t want eggs later, this business would have to sell eggs back a high price. But still, if the women bought the egg later, that would show they expected to gain from the deal.

Also, not all women would make equally good prospects. So such a business would focus on women likely to wait too long, be well off, and want kids later. So this business would “discriminate” by class in its purchases, paying more to upper class women. A lot like we now discriminate when we pay more for used clothes, cars, or houses from richer people.

Several people have told me that, while they were not personally offended, they expect others to be offended by such a business. Especially if men were involved in the business – a female only business would offend less. I’m somewhat mystified, which is partly why I’m writing this post. Maybe others can help me understand the objection.

Interestingly, we could add some personal prediction markets, which would probably be legal. For each possible young woman, there could be a market where one buys and sells conditional shares in an egg from that customer. If you owned a conditional share, you’d own a share of the profit from later selling that customer her egg. And you’d owe a share of the cost to buy her egg from her, freeze it, and store it. Imagine the fun buying and selling conditional shares regarding the young women that you know. And the fact that this is a share of a real physical object should make it legal.

Ok, I can see how people might be offended at this last suggestion. After all, there’s a risk that people might have fun on something that is supposed to be serious! 😉

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  • endril

    How much more would it cost to buy back the eggs? If there were multiple companies offering this service, you could sell multiple eggs, and then even in the case you want one of them back years later, you might still come out ahead.

    As for the “offensive” element, “Unscrupulous corporation seeks to profit off of the reproductive decisions of specifically women” sounds a little similar to abortion. But I think in this case, the blue-tribe types would be much more offended than the reds.

  • Ilya1981

    Dr. Hanson: this is certainly a good idea. But assuming that the number of such women is ever declining, due to shrinking labor class and concentration of wealth in ever narrower (and stable) circles of people, unless the government subsidizes this whole scheme in one way or another, the market niche is bound to decrease with time.

    I had an alternative idea some time ago, which I introduced in some comments, in westhunt.wordpress.org, but it requires a totalitarian government. If we assume that the emergence of welfare state is unavoidable, due to the level of technology and know-how in advanced (post)industrial societies as predicted by Schumpeter, the Western elite needs to seriously contemplate reversing dysgenic trends in a much more consistent, systemic fashion, unless it is willing to give up its hold on global power to, say, China or, perhaps, (a future) totalitarian/theocratic high-tech society.

    The idea is to license procreation. Licensing procreation (which is defined as the right to bring an own zygote to full term and birth) will enable more successful people who want to have their own children to do so via either self-financing (for those earning enough and/or with good credit rating) or via sponsorship, mostly by enabling corporations to invest in such perks as child licenses for their talented employees as part of their employment package. It will also allow foundations to sponsor the right (on average) people to get their licenses. In fact, licensing can also be supported by an open-market model, wherein betting on people with credentials to procreate will give the betting party a (short-able, under certain conditions!) option call on a portion of their taxed earning (i.e. the government will give back a portion of its tax revenue!).

    Of course, where there are carrots, there must be sticks, too. Unauthorized/unlicensed birth-giving should be elevated to the level of crime.

    The government’s job: in addition to enforcing the above programs it will also have to create new jobs/industries for the newly created smart people. These jobs will mostly be in math, science, high-tech of course, and there will be a whole lot more research programs sponsored. Obviously, these programs tend to be capital intensive, so there may probably be more math than science. But these are just details.

  • IMASBA

    Why would that last part be necessary? Without that last part I would not find the plan offensive. The business tries to predict how much a woman will be able to give later on in life to buy the eggs back and pays a price based on that prediction, there could, and perhaps should, be some agreed hard limit on an upper price (depending on the woman’s wealth at the time she wants to buy the eggs back) and the business tries to make a profit on average. It’s not entirely without its problems though: a) paying a very high price for eggs could in small ways lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy (getting a load of money when you’re young can really make a difference to how wealthy you’ll be later in life), b) businesses don’t like to work on multi-decade projects (it takes a long time before a profit can be made and investors might be dead by the time the profit rolls in) and they don’t perform very well on them either, c) the actual cost of freezing eggs may be low enough for women to just choose a business that asks a fixed price, or even for a national health care system to offer this service for free/very cheaply.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      So you are not offended by firms creating mutual gains by estimating a woman’s future, but you are offended by friends and associates doing the same thing?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        The difference is that you are introducing norms (allowing the profiting from the decisions of one’s friends) that conflict with the duties of friends. You’re creating a conflict of interest between communal norms and profit-seeking norms that may undermine the former. (This seems related to the norm against borrowing and lending substantial amounts of money to friends.)

        [Which is not to say it should be illegal.]

      • IMASBA

        Like Stephen Diamond says, it would not be something people typically want from their friends. I’m not saying it should be illegal, just that most people wouldn’t appreciate it and I doubt that’ll be any different 100 years from now. It’s also unnecessarily complicated compared to just buying shares of the business as a whole so the trading volume would be extremely low. Someone going through the (most likely unprofitable) trouble of researching a “share” of a particular woman signals he/she is probably a creepy stalker.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

    Do you have an explanation for the norm against having fun with serious matters?

  • http://introductorymicroeconomics.com/Pod/ James D Miller

    I wrote an article (no longer online) titled “A
    Modest Proposal: Allow Women to Pay for
    College In Eggs” which advocated that elite colleges get in the business of selling the eggs of their female students.

    • Ilya1981

      It’d be interesting to read, Dr. Miller. Let’s assume such could be implemented. However, it looks like, in the West, the criteria for matriculation at an elite college lies increasingly more in network connections/political context and ever less in fundamental, biological criteria like IQ. Sure, a 10 to (perhaps!) 20% segment of the undergrad population is tied to IQ/merit. However, the rest is “holistic” criteria (long-tail on IQ/academic merit)

      Your suggestion could work better if the colleges also published more information regarding said eggs, info like:
      1) IQ of the donor or GPA and field of study.
      2) Other health info, as well as the IQ/GPA of parents.

      Those two pieces are crucial for any informed investor/direct buyer, and their absence render the whole scheme to being quite less effective/more risky.

      Sorry if you already propose such things in your removed article, but I had to note the above.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Who were the imagined customers of the eggs – those same women later, or some other women?

      • http://introductorymicroeconomics.com/Pod/ James D Miller

        Other women. The idea was that elite colleges have skill and brand names concerning identifying high quality women, and that a college’s decision to admit a woman was a credible and costly signal that it believed the woman of high quality.

      • http://introductorymicroeconomics.com/Pod/ James D Miller

        Here it is:

        Around the country, the costs of higher education continue to rise. I am concerned that these high costs are making quality education inaccessible to otherwise adept young women. As a result, financial incentives might cause many talented female students to forgo their first choice and substitute a cheaper, perhaps inferior product. As an economist I realize this outcome is inefficient. In reality, women who get accepted to top institutes of higher education possess a virtually unused commodity: eggs, ovum, female reproductive matter. They should finance their education with the sale of these commodities.

        As you may know, there has been much media attention concerning the possible auction of women’s eggs on the Internet. Since there is currently no body regulating the quality of the harvests, the market is desperate for an organized company to guarantee the genetic worth of its product. Alas, a marriage is born. I propose top colleges and universities offer their students-individuals known for intellect-the option to pay all or some of their tuition in eggs. These schools could use their brand name and could, auction off the eggs and use the monies levied to educate the donors.

        My proposal would allow colleges to leverage their brand name and utilize one of their core competencies, evaluating women’s potential. Many top colleges have been admitting students based on their long term potential for over a century. Egg buyers should trust that these school’s brand names indicates quality genetic material.

        As a business, colleges are sometimes forced to exclude students of superior potential who lack sufficient funds to pay tuition. Allowing students to pay for college with their eggs would enable these schools to ignore some of the financial aspect of the admission process, and thereby admit students solely on the merit of their potential. The result would be higher academic standards, and therefore a heightened scholastic reputation.

        Further, egg payments provide an economic incentive for students to aspire to greater academic criterion. Upon receipt of the eggs, the college could freeze them and delay their sale until the students’ final grades had been posted. The sale price of the egg would almost certainly increase in direct proportion to the donor’s grade point average. Since a student would benefit from an increase in the sale price of her ova, she would have an incentive to study diligently and thus prove her genetic potential.

        Similarly, this proposal would increase the school’s commitment to overall health. Currently, many institutions are lax in regulating substance abuse on their campuses. A school that sold its students’ genetic material would have a more compelling impetus to decrease campus drug use to reduce genetic damage.

        Buyers will reap a great benefit from this transaction. They will receive a genetically superior product not only backed by a name, but also one that comes with a legacy connection. Elite institutions typically give the children of alumnae an advantage in admission decisions. This is anti-capitalistic, as it confers an inherited right that cannot typically be purchased. This punishes parents who are economically successful, but didn’t themselves go to top schools. By allowing parents to purchase legacy privileges, colleges would fill the market gap between parents’ aspirations for their children and their ability to access those aspirations.

        Success breeds imitation, so if one school were to adopt my modest proposal, other colleges would soon follow. However, the first school’s new market position would be protected by a significant first-mover’s advantage. Initially, as the only college to offer tuition discounts for egg donors, this college could attract some of the finest female students. In turn, this college could raise its prices with the increased egg quality. With higher profits, more funds could be invested in the college, thus enabling it to further its brand name and attract even finer students. Late entries into the market will never be able to compete because of the tremendous head start the first college would have gained from this virtuous cycle.

        Would eggs from students admitted to top colleges really produce superior children? My knowledge of genetics comes from science fiction; while I am certain you can combine human and Vulcan DNA, I am not fully convinced that genetics and success are correlated. However, the market will reward anyone who will enable parents to attain a perceived advantage for their children.

      • Ken Arromdee

        This has the same problems as the current system of using loans: the more money the students have available to spend, the higher the cost of college will go up to capture that. In this case, the price of college will go up by the sale price of the eggs. (If some refuse to sell, the total cost of college added up over all women will go up by the total price of all the eggs of the ones willing to sell eggs.)

      • IMASBA

        Indeed, as a European it baffles me how Americans typically do not recognize that dynamic. The people and authorities who give American students grants and loans usually do not get a say on the tuition rates and since tuition is so high that nearly every students needs financial aid of some sort the result of giving more aid is an increase in the tuition rates. Most of the money is clearly wasted because European universities have a much, much better budget/performance ratio, of course you could draw the same conclusion if you knew nothing about European universities: the tuition increase in the US has been much steeper than any explainable cost rise American universities had to face in the recent past.

      • Ilya1981

        Good writeup, Sir.

        As per my previous comment, I’d modify that to also include info about the egg donor’s:
        0) Photos (!).
        1) Field of study (in addition to the GPA, as you’ve noted), IQ still preferred.
        2) Health information (last, but *not* least).
        3) In fact, given the recent strides in genome sequencing, I’d go as far as to make the DNA info itself available for prospective users.

        Lastly, while I understand your concern regarding admission’s favorable legacy criteria, I think the more important things are wired-in capabilities and characteristics of the person (e.g. IQ and motivation, facial appearance), of which an Ivy League degree is merely a proxy. I think it would not be prudent to invest in acquiring an Ivy League egg just to get the progeny admitted there. People have a larger set of criteria for selecting eggs other than just the donor’s school of matriculation.

  • http://www.selfishmeme.com/ The Watchmaker

    Maybe the point of the exercise is to explain the reaction, but this proposal feels like gambling for the sake of gambling. I’m not against gambling, and I’m not against gambling for the sake of gambling, but I think the proposal would be more accepted if donating women simply paid storage fees. Presumably, clients would be women choosing career instead of family, so this should be fine. Yes, some women stay in higher education for a while, but hopefully they matriculate before they become infertile.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      But the whole point is that many women misjudge their later desires, and other parties willing to gamble could help them avoid the costs of such mistakes.

      • AnotherScaryRobot

        The problem is that telling people they’re misjudging their desires is seen as patronizing. In this case it’s particularly problematic, because in telling a women she’ll want children even if she doesn’t think she will, you’re telling her she conforms to a stereotype that she denies conforming to.

        This is also part of the reason a market open to associates will be seen as more offensive than the idea of a firm making these bets. The firm can at least say “We’re not telling any specific woman she’s wrong about what she’ll want, we’re just looking at actuarial tables.” An associate betting on the future reproductive desires of a specific woman can’t depersonalize in that way.

      • http://www.selfishmeme.com/ The Watchmaker

        Ah, I thought it was about reducing costs insurance style to make the idea more attractive. Thanks for explaining.

  • anon

    It makes the proposal a lot less offensive when you point out how similar it is to insurance. This makes even more sense because much of the compensation for initially freezing the eggs would likely be paid in the form of funding the treatment, giving compensation for the inconvenience etc. Sure, there would be payments involved later in life, but women would only choose that option if it was an unambiguous gain.

    • Sam Dangremond

      Thank you.

      This is exactly how this industry, which already exists and is profitable, works.

  • Christian Kleineidam

    The whole process is an interesting case of prostitution. It violates the idea that people shouldn’t sell their bodies. If a woman can sell her eggs, shouldn’t she also be able to sell a kidney?

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      People sell their hair for wigs, and rent their bodies to work at physical tasks. And there is a sense in which they are only selling the eggs to their future selves. Is trading with your future self really that horrifying?

      • ShardPhoenix

        Do people in the West sell their hair? I’ve heard of people selling it in India, or donating it here. And obviously hair grows back anyway so it’s not quite the same.

        And in general it’s not that sacred values *can’t* be bought and sold, it’s that it’s low status for it to (appear to) be about the money. The structure you’ve proposed above seems very money-oriented. Something that felt more like it was strictly about helping women would go down better, which could be done with a different structure or possibly with sufficiently clever marketing, in the same way that insurance ads typically don’t tend to emphasize the specific contract that’s being bought and sold, but rather that you need this product to get “protection for your family” (etc) in the absolute.

      • IMASBA

        Women have more eggs than they’re ever going to need naturally (at the time of menopause the eggs are not depleted, they’ve just aged too much to be useful) so the woman doesn’t really lose anything when she sells eggs. The analogy with insurance is better than the one with prostitution or the sale of kidneys. Of course for it to be insurance there has to be a guarantee the woman can get the eggs back so there has to be some agreed upper limit on the buy-back price, for example half her (and her spouse’s) yearly income or a quarter of her (and her spouse’s) wealth, whichever of the two is the highest.

        The arguments against selling kidneys, etc… are that that leads to a permanent loss of physical abilities/redundancies or that the procedure is very invasive and/or risky, so that allowing commercial trade would effectively force poor people into these things (“your request for welfare has been denied, you are not eligible for assistance until after you’ve sold all your organs”).

  • gacl

    I love this idea! But not enough to do it myself 🙂 I will donate to the kickstarter campaign though.

  • ShardPhoenix

    One possible explanation of why people will find this offensive is because they’re the “saint” type rather than the “trader” type and in the “saint” view (or at least one of them) women’s reproduction is a sacred value of infinite worth and therefore shouldn’t be debased by trying to make a traditional profit of it. You might also find similar objections to traditional storage if it was very profitable – it would be seen as “exploiting” women (even if the women in question were rich).

    I read about the saint/trader distinction in an article Eliezer linked on Facebook:
    http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/08/12/the-economics-of-pricelessness/

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      But lots of products and services related to female reproduction are sold for cash. Condoms, diaphragms, tampons, midwives, hospital deliveries, etc.

      • ShardPhoenix

        The article goes into more detail about how this (supposedly) works. Fixed affordable (or govt-backed) prices for things are less sacredness violating than high variable prices. Basically, imagine a woman crying because she can’t afford to buy her eggs back – that’s what those who would object to this will be imagining, rationally or not.

  • Anonymous

    I feel like the memory of having sold eggs becomes a burden in a woman’s head somehow, especially when she’s beginning to change her mind. I don’t know how exactly.

  • John_Maxwell_IV

    It’s an interesting idea, but I’m doubtful that the business would be profitable if you did the math.

    • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

      As it happens, I’ve been interested in the topic a little and have some of the relevant numbers in http://gwern.net/Ethical%20sperm%20donation

      So, here’s a quick estimate: it costs $9k to do an egg extraction and storage costs may run $350 per year (using the low end estimates for both); one source estimates infertility doubles from 10% at 20 to 20% at age 40. You want to do storage young, at like age 20, and it’ll be women in their 40s who want the service most. So going from 20 – 40, this implies each egg storage will cost (9000 + (350 * 20)) = $16000, and that only 20% or 1 in 5 will have any reason to use it; the sale to that 1 must pay for all 5 (plus the actual IVF but we’ll ignore that), so then the break-even price must be 5x that or $80000. This excludes issues of opportunity cost and how much you pay the women involved (presumably you’d have to pay them more than egg donors are now paid since egg donors are scarce and rare).

      Would women be $80,000+ interested in such a service? I kind of doubt that: most people don’t have that kind of cash sitting around ever, and I don’t think they’d be willing to go into debt to finance a repurchase.

      • Julia Wise

        I knew you would have the math. 🙂
        Egg donors are scarce largely because most applicants are denied. You have to have a virtually flawless family and personal history, and be attractive and from the right ethnic group. They wouldn’t be so scarce if you accepted all applicants.

      • unanimous

        Including the purchase of the egg at the start, and oportunity/interest cost over 20 years, you’d have to be charging more like $200,000+, so it’s clear why it doesn’t happen.

  • Ronfar

    Egg donors who get paid are technically paid for their “time”, not their eggs. It may not be legal in the U.S. to outright sell an egg.

    Also, egg donation is a surgical procedure. It’s very minor as far as these things go, but having a needle stuck up one’s vagina and then sent deep into the reproductive system doesn’t seem very fun.

  • Joe Teicher

    I think the idea would be pretty offensive to potential customers. You are predicting that they won’t have kids in time and they won’t freeze their eggs and yet at some point they will become desperate enough to have kids that they will pay you an arm and a leg for their eggs back. Basically, you are counting on them to be idiots.

    But hey, the assumption that your customers are idiots hasn’t hurt casinos or Adam Sandler, so I don’t think that is the problem. The problem is that as a business it stinks. You’d get killed by adverse selection and you’d have horribly negative cash flow for years before you made your first sale.

    The most similar business I can think of is a pawn shop. They also buy things from people and then sell them back to the same people. But pawn shops have 2 important differences. First the money the pawn shop pays is a loan so the customer has to make regular interest payments so the shop will keep the item. That certainly helps their cash flow. Second, if the person stops paying then the pawn shop can sell the item to anyone, so they generally only buy items they can be resold and they pay less than the resale price.

    So maybe the question is, why don’t pawn shops accept human eggs? Well, maybe they do, but assuming they don’t, my guess would be that the cost of extraction and storage are substantial and the resale market is limited.

  • rharris

    There are already egg-freezing companies which accept eggs from women under 33 and freeze half of them for the woman’s use in later life, for free. The other half is purchased by a woman who wants them because she is otherwise infertile.

  • bib

    “Imagine the fun buying and selling conditional shares regarding the young women that you know” – If ever I meet you, Robin, I’ll remind you of just how bloody disturbing this sentence is.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I hear a lot of people speculating about why other people might be disturbed. But I’m much more interested in hearing why *you* are disturbed.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

        Anyone who is “disturbed” or “offended” by this sort of proposal who reads OB would have to be a severe masochist.

      • Tony

        * raises hand *

      • Tony

        Profiting off information you think you have about your friends rather than trying to help them with it.

      • Martin-2

        How does one preclude the other?

      • Julia Wise

        For one, it gives people an incentive to sabotage their friends’ relationships to lessen their chance of bearing children in the usual fashion.

        Consider doing the same thing with a towtruck company – like frozen eggs, it provides a useful service, but one that you only need if a misfortune has occurred. It would feel very uncomfortable to bet on a friend’s car breaking down.

    • Alphaceph

      “Imagine the fun buying and selling conditional shares regarding the young women that you know”

      Robin, I love you, you are indeed a rare creature.

      However the above idea manages to violate multiple different unstated taboos that our society holds.

      If I tried to come up with an idea that would offend western liberals as much as possible, I don’t think I could do better than this.

  • http://www.moreright.net/ Konkvistador

    Accurate predictions about the fertility of highly educated young women are likely to be upsetting to them. Accurate predictions and bets about which women are likely to be able to afford such services also. Educated, likely not too fertile and not too financially secure women would be outraged. Even though it would help them have more children if they want them, I imagine narrative would go like this:

    “women’s chance for a family being ransomed back to them”

    And suddenly having your eggs frozen to have children whenever you want would become a newly discoveredh human right and too sacred for icky buisness to handle. The irony that it was icky buisness that made women realize they were mistaken about their likely fertility and allowed them ways to improve it, leading to outrage about evil buisness will not be noticed.

    In practice this proposal is “fertility difficulty futures”, and the truth about such things is very much in conflict with our currently popular narratives. Think taking on college debt vs. being pretty and marrying well.

    “sexist agenda promoting backward social arrangements”

    Making accurate predictions about people’s life outcomes, talents and consequences of sexual choices is pretty haram. We get away using a lot of good info (that we very much need) because it is effectively hidden from the public and more importantly pundits/activists by inferential distances.

    Sometimes decades of motivated talmud-level rules lawyering ethical thinking can allow us to escape some of the more costly aspects of the values we claim to hold. The problem is this is a process that works better for legacy convenience than it does for innovation.

    A publicy price is easily legible information and likely shunned for that reason.

    • SanguineEmpiricist

      Well said.

  • Sam Dangremond

    “I’m somewhat mystified”

    Ahh, stop giving them fuel for the fire:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3507#comic

  • Joshua Brulé

    I feel like being a regular overcoming bias reader has done… something to my brain.

    I, too, have a vague sense that people would be greatly offended by egg futures, and that a female only business would offend less. And I can think of vaguely plausible-sounding reasons for this, but none are very convincing to me.

    I’m going to go stir up some trouble and ask some of my blue tribe and red tribe friends about this. (Like endril, I have a feeling that the blue tribe will be a lot more upset, but I’m not entirely sure why.)

  • D_Malik

    Very interesting. Does anyone have recommendations of resources/books containing similarly creative uses for economics? Seems like it could be valuable to develop the skill of seeing these.

  • Myra Esoteric

    Why not? A couple of years ago, people were disturbed by the existence of SLABS, student loan backed investments. How about marketing this as a service for executives and use mottoes about gender equality and stuff.

  • Tyrrell_McAllister

    I personally feel emotionally uncomfortable with this business model. When I asked my brain why, this is what it said:

    When the woman sells her eggs to the company, the company is betting that something bad will happen to this particular woman. Namely, the company is betting that the woman will misjudge her desires, realize too late that she wanted children, and be forced to choose between either having no children or paying a high cost to buy back her eggs.

    To emphasize the important features of this situation (as far as my emotional response is concerned):

    (1) The company is betting that something bad will happen to the woman. Insurance companies, in contrast, make a bet that something bad will not happen. (You “win” your bet with the insurance company only if the bad thing happens.) From here, it is very easy for my tribalistic mind go through the following sequence:

    “The company is betting that something bad will happen to the woman.”
    —> “The company wants something bad to happen to the woman.”
    —> “The company is the woman’s enemy.”

    (2) The company is betting that something bad will happen to a particular woman. A store that stocks up on pain-relievers is betting that something bad will happen to somebody, but not to somebody in particular. The fact that the company aims to profit from the misfortune of this particular woman makes it seem somehow like hostility toward an individual, more like personal hatred, to some atavistic part of my mind.

    (3) The company isn’t making this bet about some stranger or third party, but about someone with whom it has entered into a business relationship. The company and the woman seem like two parties engaging in a hostile interaction, rather than two unrelated parties, one of whom will incidentally profit from the other’s misfortune.

    (4) On a related note, it’s one thing to bet that some third party will fail. It’s another to bet with that party that they will fail. That feels like something that you do only when you want to rub their failure in their face.

    (5) There is a basic asymmetry of sympathy for the two parties. One is a woman confronting the harsh reality that she has a limited window of time in which she can fulfill a desire that I have shared and which wouldn’t cost anyone else anything (that my emotional mind notices). The other party is a company seeking financial gain at the expense of someone else. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it earns less sympathy.

    So now the situation is parsed as a hostile relationship between two belligerents, where one party has more of my sympathy. The tribalistic in-group/out-group module in my brain wants to identify with the party that has more of my sympathy. Now my brain sees a conflict where I’m on one side and the egg-selling business is on the other. Thus, even a tiny margin of sympathy can blow up into full-bore the-enemy-is-entirely-evil type thinking.

    • HM

      Life insurance was controversial because they survivors bet on their relations dying.

      And the annuity market seems most points you have. Selling an annuity is a bet with a particular party, that something bad will happen to this part with which you’ve entered a business relationship.

      Maybe the difference is that you both insure yourself against something bad, AND if this bad thing happens the company gains. Most insurances have that you insure against bad things, and company loses if they happen, or you insure yourself against the partially bad consequences of good things happening (living long), and the company loses if they materialize.

      • Tyrrell_McAllister

        Good point about annuities.

        Annuities are somehow easier to think of as a loan (from the beneficiary to the insurance company) that the borrower just doesn’t have to pay back when the lender dies. Also, I can imagine a “lender” wanting to set up an annuity even if he knew that he would die exactly when the insurance company statistically expects him to die. He still might want that tax-sheltered lump of funds providing him with a steady income until his death. (I don’t know if that’s realistic, but it partly explains why I don’t have the same emotional reaction.)

        But imagine an annuity that was for major medical expenses. You pay the company a lump sum. As long as you have no major medical problems, they pay you a steady income. But, as soon as you hit some big hospital expense, they cut you off.

        Unlike the life-insurance type of annuity, they don’t have the excuse that you’re dead. They could help you out. But, instead, they make things worse.

        I feel some of the same reaction against this that I do against Robin’s egg-futures business. But the problems aren’t quite morally analogous. The medical annuity company makes things worse by cutting you off from your regular stipend just when you need money most. The egg-futures business, in contrast, actually offers the woman a better option than she otherwise would have had, namely to buy her eggs back.

      • Evan Gaensbauer

        This seems to me like it could be a real problem where each person has the history of their social lives recorded across all social media. With that record of history, one could actually generate a prediction market where people could bet on bad things happening to them.

  • Granite26

    I think it has something to do with the idea that a company knows you’re going to make a mistake, and is setting up a business model on letting people make the mistake and then cleaning up after it.

    On a side note, I don’t see this as a profitable business model, simply because of the relatively high costs of extraction and storage having to be spread across soooooo few people.

    Would it be better, more palatable to store the eggs for free, rather than pay the women? There’d be more self selection, and a higher rate of return. Each woman that changed her mind would be paying for far fewer women that didn’t.

    What happens to the eggs that aren’t repurchased? Is there a market for donation? Are they viable that long? Could there be a 30 year timeline? Are donated eggs sufficient to recoup some of the cost?

  • PB

    It would seem that this would work equally well for sperm with less overhead involved with extraction. Additionally, accumulating mutations make waiting to father children increasingly risky. http://goo.gl/OxM7Dq

    • IMASBA

      The problem is much less acute for men and even for old men sperm selection can still yield relatively healthy children. But yes, it would be interesting to see if reactions to such a proposal would differ in unexpected ways from the reactions to store eggs for a profit.

  • Paul

    Why does it have to be any more complicated than “men getting their sneaky hands on precious female eggs” without going through the proper sexual-competition channels?

    Plus, all of the usual suspects (about it making you look weird to potential sexual partners).

  • Robert Koslover
    • unanimous

      It’s different. This effectively is employers paying women to keep working.

  • unanimous

    I feel a bit uncomfortable at the idea. Commercial transactions in general take a lot of getting used to. For most of us, we get used to commerce as we are raised and it takes years, and we rarely apply it within familied. Most people aren’t exposed to selling or buying eggs, and I’m not surprised that many people feel strange about it. Subjecting other personal things to commerce would probably get the similar reactions.

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  • lemmycaution

    egg harvesting is a complicated procedure:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_donation#Procedure

    not worth going through if you don’t have control over the process.

  • David I. LEVINE

    I believe that framing this as a storage business would alleviate the bad PR of selling a woman her own eggs. The offer is roughly:

    We will harvest and store your eggs for you. You might not ever want to have children. If so, no problem. You pay NOTHING! We will bear that risk.

    If you want your eggs, you pay the extraction and storage fee of $xx + $xx / year of storage.

    • IMASBA

      Sure, if you leave out enough information and throw around enough half-truths the bad PR of anything can be alleviated. What Robin proposed is not a simple storage service.

  • Ronfar

    There was an op-ed in the New York Times a little while ago about egg freezing.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/upshot/egg-freezing-as-a-work-benefit-some-women-see-darker-message.html

    It says that the success rate per egg (of carrying a baby to term) is only 6 to 8 percent for women over 35…