U.S. Sperm Bank Donations Rise in Recession

mother with baby
mother with baby

With college tuition and fees up more than 440% over the past 25 years, according to the Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, it's not surprising that students are trying to make a buck any way they can. But jobs are harder to come by in the economic downturn, and that has had a peculiar side effect: In the U.S., more young men are turning to sperm donation as a part-time job.

It's the reverse of trends in the U.K. and Australia, which are seeing sperm shortages, largely as a result of laws that give children the right to seek out the identity of their donor fathers. In Australia, sperm banks are starting to advertise heavily in the hope of attracting more donors. A couple of years ago, when sperm banks in Sydney faced similar shortages, they imported sperm from the U.S. In the U.K., by contrast, some women are reportedly seeking out "viking" sperm from Denmark.

In the U.S., however, where most sperm banks allow donors to remain anonymous, some businesses say they've seen a dramatic rise in donor applications since the economy cratered a couple years ago. "I would say there's been a 15% to 20% increase in donors since the recession hit," says Kevin Foster, president of Sperm Donors Inc., an Idaho-based agency that matches donors and hopeful parents.

Donating Can Pay Off

Depending on the sperm bank, donating can be a fruitful enterprise, although it may take months to get accepted into a program. California Cryobank, a Los Angeles-based sperm bank, says its donors make an average of $1,000 per month.

It's not free money, says Scott Brown, head of communications. Donors must be at least 5 feet 9 inches tall and enrolled in -- or have a degree from -- a four-year university. Plus, they have to pass an assortment of genetic and medical tests, screenings, not to mention an investigation into their family's medical history to look for the early onset of heart disease, cancer, etc.

"We joke that it's easier to get into Harvard than to get accepted in our program," says Brown. That's funny because it's true -- Brown estimates that only 1% of all the applications are accepted. Harvard's acceptance rate this year was 6.9%.

Most of California Cryobank's donors stick with it for about a year and a half, donating once or twice per week, according to Brown. Each time they donate, they're asked to abstain from sex for 48 hours beforehand and they get $100 per donation. The sperm bank mostly recruits at colleges, and many of its donors are students at Stanford University, Harvard University, University of California at Los Angeles and so on.

Prices Remain Steady

The dramatic rise in applicants has not changed the compensation for donors, although one might imagine an increase in supply would lead to lower compensation. Many donors, though, are willing to be paid far less than the $100 per donation offered at California Cryobank. At Seattle Sperm Bank, for example, where donors (mainly students) are paid $60 per donation, applications have nonetheless doubled over the last couple of years.

Director Peter Bower thinks that's partly due to the fact that it's a new facility, so that applications would have grown organically, but he also believes the economy has played a part.

"The money makes a big difference for students, but we really like our donors to be motivated to help childless couples or single women, rather than motivated by the money. It's not something you do for quick cash," says Bower. "The application process takes two or three months and it takes a long time before you actually start donating. The guys in our program are dedicated and committed to doing a good deed."

Still, the beer money probably doesn't hurt.