Yesterday, news broke that Apple and Facebook have both begun offering health coverage for female employees to freeze their eggs. Some argue that this isn't really the perk it seems to be, because it implies a company culture that encourages women to put children on hold in order to work harder. I have to disagree. From where I sit, offering insurance coverage for egg freezing--a process that can cost upwards of $10,000 per round--is an incredible step toward evening out the playing field for women at work.
The reality is, serious fertility challenges begin for men when they hit their 60s, versus the late 30s to early 40s for women. This means that men--if they choose to--can work through their 20s and 30s without having to make hard decisions about balancing family and work.
For women, that choice does not exist. Biologically, there is a ticking clock. Socially, everybody is asking about the clock. And at work, there's the unspoken question of the clock--especially for married women, who are often effectively placed on baby watch before the wedding thank-you notes have arrived. Whether or not a 30-something woman even wants children, it's frequently assumed that the question is affecting how she thinks about her career and life. Thirty-something men? Not so much.
Though freezing eggs is not a guarantee that you'll be able to conceive children in the future--success rates at top clinics are similar to IVF success rates--neither is being a woman. Approximately 10 percent of women have trouble getting or staying pregnant, according to the U.S. Office on Women's Health. But a key fact to keep in mind is that, the younger the woman, the more effective the process of egg freezing.
According to the NYU fertility center, egg quality "is best when a woman is in her reproductive prime (age 16 to 28)." This means that, as an insurance policy, freezing your eggs is most effective before many women are even ready to consider it. At 27, you may not know whether you'll want to stay in your current industry, whether you'll meet a life partner with whom you'll want to raise a family, or even whether you want kids at all. At 27, many women probably won't think that fertility insurance is worth spending $10,000 of their own money.
Years later, your work and life situations and goals could be entirely different. And that's why offering egg freezing to employees is a revolutionary insurance benefit. You don't buy insurance hoping to use it--but you're glad to have it if something happens. At the same time, as with any work benefit, it's not mandatory--just because companies offer maternity leave, a gym membership, or free lunch doesn't mean they require all women to use that maternity leave, all employees to work out, and that everyone eats the same thing every day.
Having the choice to freeze eggs doesn't force women into longer hours or more demanding jobs. And it's never going to be the right choice for everyone (not in the least because it requires quickly getting over any fear of needles). But it can offer a wider and more equal window of opportunity for planning families and careers to women who decide they want it. Let's give women coverage for egg freezing, men better paternity leave, and let everybody live the lives they feel like living.