The XX Factor

Why Isn’t Surrogacy More Expensive?

An odd, not-quite-paradoxical consensus is forming in our discussion over surrogacy. There is the assumption that the sticker price of $20,000 is surprisingly low, along with the assumption that surrogacy is so astronomically expensive that it’s only available to rich ladies with billionaire husbands and baby nurses. Both might well be true, but I’m more convinced by the former than the latter. Is surrogacy really out of the reach of your average middle-class dual-income couple that can, at any rate, afford to raise a kid for 18 years? Traditional pregnancies are by no means cost-free, so the cost of hiring a surrogate over becoming pregnant is lower than it first appears.

The real question is why, in the age of the active, mercury-avoiding, one-glass-of-Merlot-will-destroy-your-baby-forever pregnancy, wealthy women are not bidding up the price for equally vigilant super-surrogates. One could imagine surrogates charging more for promising to eat only organic, or regularly attending prenatal yoga, or blasting Mozart into their respective uteri. The market for eggs is highly differentiated; as we know, women with more education, better looks, and the right ethnicity can claim between $3,000 and something like $100,000. (The median is probably lower than $10,000.)

When I sold my eggs in order to write this article on the subject for Reason Magazine , the demands on ova-quality were so specific that I had to send the couple an official copy of my GRE scores in order to get them to upgrade my hotel room during the week of the donation. By contrast, wombs look something like a commodity, with standard prices that increase slightly with experience. (I hope the surrogate moms in comments will correct me if I’m wrong.) Does it make sense for parents to focus so intensely on the quality of genetic material and treat the gestational environment as relatively fixed? Doesn’t that run counter to every panicky, paranoid pregnancy article you’ve ever read?

Photograph by Digital Vision/Getty Images.