February 14, 2010
Valentine’s Day Scholarship Special: Krawiec on Prostitution, Egg Donors, and Surrogacy
Posted by Erik Gerding

Kim Krawiec (Duke) has a new paper on SSRN, “A Woman’s Worth”, in which she disputes some of the traditional arguments for legal regulation of prostitution, oocyte donation, and surrogate pregnancy. Here is the abstract:

This Article examines three traditionally “taboo trades”: (1) the sale of sex, (2) compensated egg donation, and (3) commercial surrogacy. The article purposely invokes examples in which the compensated provision of goods or services (primarily or exclusively by women) is legal, but in which commodification is only partially achieved or is constrained in some way. I argue that incomplete commodification disadvantages female providers in these instances, by constraining their agency, earning power, and status. Moreover, anticommodification and coercion rhetoric is sometimes invoked in these settings by interest groups who, at best, have little interest in female empowerment and, at worst, have economic or political interests at odds with it.

Krawiec’s focus is on whether regulation of these markets reflect an inherent bias against women. For example, she questions why regulations of egg donation are so stringent (and appear to push women to “donate” for altruistic motives) while men face little comparable restrictions in sperm donation. This contributes to the shocking statistic cited by Krawiec that egg and sperm donors receive roughly the same hourly compensation for their services.

I see these regulations less as a means to regulate women differently and more as a way to protect the marriage contract as a social institution or tool of social control. There are some interesting connections between Krawiec’s work on these “taboo trades” and her research on financial derivatives. Whereas financial derivatives are often used as ways to unbundle the various economic rights associated with financial assets such as debt and equity, these taboo trades – prostitution, egg donation, and surrogacy – represent the unbundling (or decoupling) of the marriage contract. Religious and legal strictures traditionally bound sex, conception, and childbearing all within the confines of the marriage contract. As with derivatives, new technology and markets combined to allow these services to be unbundled. Regulation of trades of these unbundled services may be aimed at protecting the marriage contract (or at least minimizing its damage) and not just at regulating women per se.

In fact, these regulations also serve to control men – albeit indirectly. Regulating the availability of prostitution pushes men to seek sex in a relationship (like marriage). Raising the cost of surrogacy impacts men – including gay men -- who want fatherhood outside of heterosexual marriage. What explains then why women are the dominant targets of these regulations and not men? Perhaps it is gender bias. But law & economics may offer an alternative explanation. Women may be the cheapest cost avoiders. For example, it may be far cheaper to regulate the relatively fewer number of prostitutes compared to the larger number of johns. It may be easier to regulate egg donation and surrogacy – which often require more invasive technology than sperm donation.

Krawiec’s article opens up a number of interesting questions for future research – particularly how the unbundling of the marriage contract have different effects across class lines. This has long been an interesting area of inquiry in economics – see for example George Akerlof and Janet Yellen’s work on “reproductive technology shocks.” One hypothesis would be that both the markets and the restrictions Krawiec describes have widely differing impacts along two axis -- higher income and lower income women on the one hand and women seeking to be part of a long-term opposite sex relationship or not on the other. Disaggregating the analysis based on class might yield some very provocative conclusions. Might higher-income women favor price controls (including indirect price controls that operate through moral suasion) on surrogacy and oocyte donation because it keeps the cost of having a baby artificially low?

Happy Commercialized Romance Day!

Contracts, Family, Gender Issues, Law & Society, Legal Scholarship, Science, Wisdom and Virtue | Bookmark

TrackBacks (0)

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Links to weblogs that reference Valentine’s Day Scholarship Special: Krawiec on Prostitution, Egg Donors, and Surrogacy:

Recent Comments
Popular Threads
Search The Glom
The Glom on Twitter
Archives by Topic
Archives by Date
January 2019
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Miscellaneous Links