Embryologist putting a sample into laboratory centrifuge.
Image: Shutterstock

The popular wisdom is that a growing number of women are freezing their eggs because they are canny careerists who want to climb the professional ladder before having a baby. It’s a fair enough guess, I suppose, given how shoddily we treat working parents, and moms especially. But a new study suggests that the real issue driving the egg-freezing phenomenon is, according to researchers, “a lack of stable partnerships with men committed to marriage and parenting.”

Researchers surveyed women seeking egg-freezing services at more than half a dozen fertility clinics in the United States and Israel. Marcia Inhorn, an anthropologist from Yale University, explained in a press release, “Most of the women had already pursued and completed their educational and career goals, but by their late thirties had been unable to find a lasting reproductive relationship with a stable partner.”

A lasting reproductive relationship with a stable partner. If Craigslist Personals was still around, that would deserve its own acronym: W4LRRSP. (Feel free to add to your Tinder bio.)

The overwhelming majority of surveyed women—85 percent—were unpartnered and chose egg-freezing for one of six reasons: “being single, divorced or divorcing, broken up from a relationship, working overseas, single mother by choice or circumstance, and career planning,” as the press release puts it. But career concerns were the least common reason cited—and that was true even among women whose employer’s insurance plans covered egg freezing.

The 15 percent of women who had partners cited four different circumstances that led to freezing their eggs:

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1. “with a man not ready to have children”

2. “in a relationship too new or uncertain”

3. “with a partner who refuses to have children”

4. “with a partner with his own multiple partners.”

Whether partnered or otherwise, surveyed women were more driven by concerns about commitment than their careers.

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But this narrative around a lack of commitment (from men, in particular) is perhaps less broadly appealing than the careerist one we usually hear—the one that draws on the generational boogeywoman of the millennial who is destroying the natural order of things by delaying marriage, having casual sex, and focusing on her career aspirations. The career-climbing storyline around egg-freezing has only been helped along by news of companies like Facebook and Apple offering to cover these services (a not exactly altruistic act that can serve as a tool of both competitive recruitment and, you know, surrender to the “invisibly pervasive force of corporate control”).

Inhorn argues that companies should still consider egg-freezing “a legitimate insurance benefit,” despite it being largely driven by non-career concerns. She says of women who are without the aforementioned lasting reproductive relationship with a stable partner: “Their choices are to freeze their eggs, hope to find a partner, or decide to become a single mother with donor sperm.” Maybe it’s saying something—about the romantic landscape and the lack of support for single parents—that egg freezing often feels like the most realistic of those three options.