This article evaluates the relationship between workplace equality and the technology of egg freezing, which allows women to “bank” their eggs until they are ready to use them. As the workplace increasingly rewards education and career investment, middle class women postpone family formation until they have attained a measure of financial security and the maturity to balance dual earner arrangements. Yet, as they age, their reproductive potential diminishes dramatically. By contrast, women who do not complete college (and aren’t even thinking about graduate school) bear children at different times in their life cycles, with less leverage with employers, and different understandings about the appropriate tradeoffs between work and family, fathers and mothers, single and dual-parenting.
The article contrasts egg freezing’s enormous potential benefits to individual women (and their partners) against the potential dangers. Once egg freezing takes hold as a valuable – and viable -- option, pressures are likely to build to make it a routine one. A fertility industry eager to enhance its market share may well push its services without comprehensive assessment of the potential risks to the health of women and children.
Moreover, the availability of egg freezing may make it that much harder to marshal coalitions to push for more family friendly workplaces. It is accordingly likely to exacerbate existing cultural, regional, and class divisions. The result of technological advances in egg freezing will further marginalize those on the losing end of today’s economy, reinforcing the growing disparity between families based on class. We predict that the overall effect will be to slow the needed remaking of workplace and family systems to better accommodate a changing relationship between work and family and reinforce the diverging socioeconomic status and socializations of elite and working-class women. Ultimately, the cultural dilemmas inherent in egg freezing show the need to develop new models of success: for working class women, this means educational and employment opportunities that encourage them to delay childbearing, and for elite women, this means opportunities that foster earlier childbearing.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-93; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2013-93
June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, The Gender/Class Divide: Reproduction, Privilege and the Workplace, 8 Fla. Int'l U. L. Rev. 287-316 (2013).