An employee demonstrates the preparation to take eggs with a needle at the e-Stork Reproductive Center in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan.

An employee demonstrates the preparation to take eggs with a needle at the e-Stork Reproductive Center in Hsinchu in northern Taiwan.

Credit:

Pichi Chuang/Reuters

Forget free meals, massages and laundry services — two of Silicon Valley's biggest companies are adding free egg freezing to their famously long lists of employee perks.

Facebook last winter began offering up to $20,000 for female employees to freeze their eggs, and Apple will do the same starting in January. The procedure, which requires a woman to take hormones and undergo minor surgery, can give women more flexibility in planning their families.

But some people are questioning the companies' motives. “I think it's dangerous," says Hillary Frank, host of WNYC’s parenting podcast, The Longest Shortest Time. "What should be happening is that there should be policies at workplaces that make it easier for women to have children when they want to.”

Frank says that instead of encouraging women to wait to have children, companies should offer things like additional paid leave, and flexible work hours that would allow parents to manage family life better.

Naomi Cahn, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law and the author of "Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family," agrees that such so-called perks actually send mixed signals to employees.

“What message does this send about the kind of workplaces we are constructing for workers?” Cahn says. “And what message does this send to women about the ability to overcome our biological clocks?”

She says a comprehensive approach to family planning should include paid child care, paid parental leave and “flex time” for parents with newborns. Egg-freezing programs are much less problematic with those kinds of policies in place, she argues.

“But there’s a whole set of other issues,” she says. “Will [egg freezing] policies actually help women succeed once they have babies, or are we just deferring the inevitable motherhood penalty that hits women once they have babies?”

Cahn says that statistics show that women and men who are childless tend to have fairly similar levels of pay, but that changes once a woman becomes a mother.

“It’s actually sort of interesting that Apple and Facebook are out in front on this,” she says. “There have been rumors for years that other companies, including law firms and big banking companies, are doing this. But I think that they’ve been reluctant to come forward and admit this is a workplace benefit because they are quite worried that there will be assumptions that all they really care about is getting the most out of their employees.”

Some also worry that egg freezing increases the divide between the rich and poor. But Cahn says it seems that all employees, regardless of skill-level or position, are able to take advantage of the egg freezing policies at companies like Facebook or Apple.

“On the other hand, we know that the age of marriage and the age of childbearing is going up for the college-educated. But for women who haven’t completed college or completed high school, the age of childbearing is much lower and hasn’t changed much," she says. "It’s unclear how much of a benefit this is to women who, by the time they turn 23 or 24, already have one or two children. Will they be interested in [freezing their eggs and] having more? Perhaps not.”

Egg freezing also does nothing to help make parenting a job for both mothers and fathers.

“One of the things egg freezing does is it focuses on women’s biological clocks and on a woman’s ability to have it all,” Cahn says. “We can’t forget about men who want to be fathers, about men who need parental leave and who need support in the workplace to take that parental leave.”

Cahn does say that there are positive aspects to such benefit plans, but adds they need to go step further.

“The opportunity to freeze eggs really can be empowering, so that could certainly be one component of a family-friendly workplace,” says Cahn. “But a family-friendly workplace doesn’t just include child care benefits and flexible time. It also includes paying a living wage to both men and women. And then once men and women do have children, making sure to support the families that they have.”

This story is based on an interview from PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to become part of the American conversation.

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