Why more people are choosing to “put motherhood on ice”

Kristin Schwab, Maria Hollenhorst, and Sofia Terenzio Jul 10, 2024
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In recent years, more people have chosen to freeze their eggs in order to focus on their careers without simultaneously juggling the responsibilities of having a child. Yelim Lee/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

Why more people are choosing to “put motherhood on ice”

Kristin Schwab, Maria Hollenhorst, and Sofia Terenzio Jul 10, 2024
Heard on:
In recent years, more people have chosen to freeze their eggs in order to focus on their careers without simultaneously juggling the responsibilities of having a child. Yelim Lee/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images
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A growing number of employers now cover egg-freezing as an employee benefit. That’s led to a dramatic increase in the number of people undergoing egg-freezing procedures, according to New York Times reporter Emma Goldberg, who wrote about it recently.

Goldberg spoke with Marketplace’s Kristin Schwab about what’s driving this expansion and what it means for working parents. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kristin Schwab: What inspired you to write this story?

Emma Goldberg: Well, one thing is that it just felt like more and more people that I knew were starting to talk about egg freezing, even if they didn’t necessarily feel that they could afford it. They were starting to lobby their employers to cover it. I noticed at my workplace, for example, that once we expanded our egg-freezing benefit, people started to talk about egg freezing a lot in the office — there was a Slack channel devoted to people helping each other figure out how to get their medication. So, it felt like something that had been kind of shrouded in mystery all of a sudden, like, burst into public view. And then when I went through the process myself, I also thought, this is such a fascinating, brave new world in which we can just kind of put motherhood on ice. And people have so many complicated feelings and reservations that come along with that, so it felt like a lot of fodder for a story.

Schwab: So, who used to be the typical profile of somebody freezing their eggs?

Goldberg: So, it used to be people who were a bit older. It was often women who were around the age of 38. And anthropologists and sociologists who kind of studied the phenomenon found that the reason a lot of people were doing it was if they were in their late 30s and they hadn’t met a partner that they were going to raise kids with yet, they wanted to just kind of preserve their options for future motherhood. Now, the doctors I interviewed said that the age of women who are pursuing this is starting to get a bit younger, into the earlier 30s or even sometimes late 20s. That being said, you know, the demographics that it’s reaching are still pretty white and wealthy.

Schwab: Sure, and part of that is because, you talk about how more employers have started offering their employees fertility benefits. What types of employers are these? And why are they doing it?

Goldberg: So, that started as a benefit that was particularly concentrated in the kind of Big Tech field. It was a lot of these employers like Apple and Google that were in this kind of war for talent. But in recent years, it started to expand. So, it’s not just Big Tech — it’s law firms, it’s finance, it’s media, like The New York Times, my employer. So, there are more and more employers that are starting to cover it, so much so that now it’s around 19% of large employers, up from around 5% just a few years ago.

Schwab: Wow. What’s in it for these companies?

Goldberg: There’s a couple of different incentives for the companies. One is that some of the employers I spoke to said that they found that fertility benefits were actually the No. 1 most in-demand benefit from employees. So, it’s something that workers are saying that they want. Another thing is that from the perspective of some employers, it can mean that women are free to kind of throw themselves into their work earlier in their careers, like take the late-night meetings, all the work travel, and then they have this kind of psychological assurance that they could always focus on their personal lives later into their 30s.

Schwab: In your story, you weigh the question of whether fertility benefits are a feminist dream or a Silicon Valley fantasy. Can you tell me more about the feminist dream side of this?

Goldberg: Yeah, I mean, for a lot of women, this is a dream come true, because women have always had to do this kind of impossible equation of feeling like the exact moment when they should be investing in their careers, and like, catapulting themselves forward is also the moment when they should be trying to start having kids and build a family. And so, I think for a lot of the women I interviewed, it felt like this dream scenario of you could, like, untether all of your anxieties around your reproductive health and your fertility from your career. 

Schwab: And then there’s the flip side that I mentioned about people who feel like they’re kind of being tricked into a Silicon Valley fantasy. What does that mean? 

Goldberg: There’re a lot of dimensions to the kind of illusion. Part of all of this is that the science isn’t totally there yet. So, it’s not like people can freeze their eggs and have total assurance that they’ll be able to unfreeze them and use them to have a baby. And then the other part of it is just that the challenge of balancing life and work is still going to catch up with people, even if they defer motherhood, right? So, I spoke with a lot of women who froze eggs, and then some ended up either unfreezing them, or they just had children naturally, and then the reality still kind of crashed down on them. They were exhausted trying to do the juggling act of focusing on their career, taking care of all their professional responsibilities and trying to take care of a family. And sometimes people say, you know, egg freezing is just one tiny piece of the bigger puzzle that corporate America needs to pursue to actually support working parents, and that includes more generous paid parental leave policies or child care benefits. So, there’s so many pieces of the puzzle that make it possible to balance work and family, and people feel like egg freezing is just this one little part of it. 

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