Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Egg Agencies, Sperm Banks, and the Medical Market in Genetic Material

Publication Date: 
June 2007
American Sociological Review 72: 319-340

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Eggs and sperm are parallel bodily goods in that each contributes half of the reproductive material needed to create life. Yet these cells are produced by differently sexed bodies, allowing for a comparative analysis of how the social process of bodily commodification varies based on sex and gender. Drawing on interview and observational data from two egg agencies and two sperm banks in the United States, this article compares how staff recruit, screen, market, and compensate women and men donors. Results show how gendered norms inspire more altruistic rhetoric in egg donation than in sperm donation, producing different regimes of bodily commodification for women and men. I conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for debates in sociology of gender about biological differences among women and men and the cultural norms attributed to these differences; debates in economic sociology about how social factors shape the expansion of the market; and debates in medical sociology about the intersection of the market and medical practice.