Gender and the Value of Bodily Goods: Commodification in Egg and Sperm Donation

Law and Contemporary Problems 72: 37-58.72 (Summer 2009) Available at:


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Listing a child for sale in the local paper’s classified section is unthinkable, and it is illegal for donors to sell organs in the US. Yet fertility programs routinely recruit young women and men to “donate” eggs and sperm in return for financial compensation. Payments to women vary substantially, both within particular agencies and in different regions of the US, but the national average is around $4,200. Here, Almeling constructs a theoretical framework analyzing the social process of assigning value to the human body. He further describes the historical emergence of the market in eggs and sperm before turning to detailed analyses of organizational procedures at contemporary donation programs. Also, he finds out the significant variation in how women’s bodies and men’s bodies are valued. He conclude by emphasizing the importance of conducting empirical research on markets in human goods, because social processes of commodification do not always proceed as theorists might expects.