Get Paid $1,500 to Have a Vasectomy?

A reader from Wadsworth, Ohio, named Tom Morris writes with an idea. He is a lawyer and, he says, and an “occasional acting judge in a small town”:

In my capacity as acting judge, I find myself repeatedly dealing with the same issues. Young adults irresponsibly having kids without any ability, either monetarily or emotionally, to raise them.  These unwanted kids are left unsupervised, and are more likely to commit crimes and have more unwanted kids, which continues this cycle.

While I have not crunched the numbers to support this hypothesis, it is consistent with Dr. Levitt’s study made famous from your first book. Unwanted children are a bad thing. Preventing this “bad thing” would lead to a reduction in crime, reduction in poverty, and a reduction of just about every other social ill I can think of.

As always, solutions tend to reveal themselves by properly [offering] incentives to the situation for the desired results.  To that end, we need an economic plan, not an ad campaign to solve this problem.  Here is my shot, tell me what you think.

Plan: the government offers $1,500 to every 18-year-old male in exchange for them getting a vasectomy provided at no charge.

Advantages:  First, it would help reduce unwanted pregnancy.  So much of the burden falls on the girls to stop the pregnancy as boys tend to become only interested in the sex, and not the byproduct therefrom.

Second, we get to the results of Levitt’s “abortion crime-rate” study, without the need to get into the abortion argument. The unwanted children are never conceived.

Third, those people who would be attracted to the money are probably not in a financial position to be having kids in the first place.

Finally, if a person desires to have children in the future, they could have the procedure reversed (at their own cost).  This barrier of entry to having a child, I would argue, is also a good thing.

Let me know what you think so I can quit the law practice and start work on my doctoral thesis and eventual Nobel Prize.

Tom isn’t alone in thinking along these lines — our WNYC colleagues RadioLab did a story on Project Prevention (data here), which has paid thousands of drug addicts and alcoholics to not have babies. In India, men and women who agree to be sterilized have been offered cash, TVs, and cars. That said, should Tom start writing his Nobel speech?


Sam_L

It isn't a new idea. Eugenics was all the rage in the middle of the 20th century. Whether you define that by specific physical traits or socio-economic condition, the ethics of the situation are quite similar.

If the only moral imperative is to increase the economic prospering of a country, then this is a great idea. If there are other ideals held by the population, expect incredible backlash.

Sam_L

I double checked my history and should have indicated that it was the rage in the early 20th century.

Damon

This won't work. Simple: you've effectively provided a government subsidy to people who don't want to have kids, not to those to whom you effectively want to prevent from having children.

I predict the unintended consequence will be the takers on this program will treat it as a short term capital loan (see your reversibility clause) OR that the takers will be those not in any danger of impregnating a woman anyway through the traditional means, perhaps by virtue of their sexual orientation or ambivalence. Either way, you're subsidizing the wrong group.

Finally, to the extent that potential pregnancy and the cost of those children serve as any deterrent to sexual behavior, discarding said disincentive may in the unintended consequence of spreading STDs. I believe you'd need to couple the sterilizations with immunizations against HPV and any others possible.

MindTheGAAP

I don't think its that simple. Of course you will subsidize people who simple don't want kids rather than just people we want to prevent having kids. It doesn't need to work that way to be effective. This is no different than the government giving out free condoms. Anyone is allowed them, not just low income people. I think this is a much more effective birth control than trying to get people to use condoms.

I think the idea that this would be used as a short term capital loan is giving far too much credit to people who will take advantage of this. If you don't have access to a $1,500 line of credit, then I think society would benefit by preventing you from having children. You would need to be pretty desperate to have a vasectomy and a reverse vasectomy (I don't think either is too painful, but certainly not pleasant) for just a $1,500 loan.

I believe that all forms of birth control should be accessible to everyone (I would not consider abortion a birth control, that's a whole other debate...), inevitably, it will reduce the amount of unwanted babies. If part of the cost is also paying people to not have babies who would have willingly paid the cost themselves, I don't see why that's a big issue.

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Andrew M.

The same kind of incentive project could be done with girls and IUDs (if the thing holding off IUDs in women who haven't gotten pregnant is FDA lolly-gagging and not actually something clinical).

Johanna

Or pay women to get an IUD - they're viable for up to 10 years, and reversible, and you don't have to think about them at all once they're inserted - thereby preventing unwanted pregnancies. It still puts the burden on the women to prevent pregnancy, but it still solves the same problem.

Emily

As a young woman with an IUD and no children (yes you can still get one and you'd be wise to do so if possible), I will personally attest to the fact that they are not a silver bullet. While I have had no complications, side effects, or concerns, not all women react well to them, for a variety of reasons. Further, they increase the risk of complication if STIs are introduced, meaning they are recommended for women in committed relationships. Cervical cancer and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: it is not a joke.

Alan P.

Maybe not yet. Deciding who should procreate and who is a burden has a really bad history.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics_in_the_United_States

Bill Garcia

Interesting idea, but would we require any accountability for where the $1500 is spent? For example, if we subsidize drug addicts or alcoholics to not have children, where does one suppose the money goes?

Dan

Why not go further? Require sterilization of prisoners (you choose to commit a crime, the penalty is sterilization). One study found that the average British prisoner fathered over twice as many children as the average Brit. How about making sterilization a prerequisite for welfare benefits (again, the individual has a choice)? Or, we could use educational data mining--which predicts with striking accuracy who will drop out of high school--to target individuals for this paid vasectomy.

Sigifredo Badani

I'm not sure if vasovasostomy (Vasectomy reversal) is effective in all cases. You should to solve this situation by increase the government offer to pay the cost of a semen bank to ensure the reversal procedure.

John

1) I think he is missing out on the unequal distribution of income during ones life. Students might be tempted to accept the offer as it is a long way to a phd. There is the danger that one actually removes the genes of the brightest mindes from the pool, as "more intelligent people" just happen to be stuck in a longer education.

2) As a my former boss liked to point out - only one male is necessary for the reproduction of a whole society. Removing all the other surplus men from the equation might not do a thing to number of children being born.

joby

I remember reading where this was attempted in China several years ago, it had no effect on birth rates. It turns out that the women will eventually have sex with a man who has not had a vasectomy. It was found that if you want to control birth rates you have to concentrate on women. I would totally be for a payout to women who are voluntarily implanted with IUD's. I'd also go for the more controversial plan that requires IUD's for women to continue to receive Section 8 housing, welfare or Food Stamps.

Bourd

It would seem a better solution to have policies to help prevent unwanted pregnancies and to foster a nuclear family. It would not seem too difficult to come up with policies that enable fathers to stay with the mother and child or policies that enable the parents to get a job without losing all their benefits. The fertility rate is below the sustainability level now. We should be making it easier to have a family, not harder.

korn

I want one, but even with insurance it's going to cost me over $1000.

Emily

The author is clearly demonstrating his ignorance of the process (and many other things) by recommending them to young men. They are not always (or easily) reversible, depending on which process one opts for (clamping the tubes versus cutting them). If the tubes are not cut, the clamps can fall off (as happened with my brother-in-law); if the tubes are actually cut, it is more expensive to reinstate them, there is a higher risk of permanent sterility, and the process is overall more painful. Then there are the financial and legal components... since this is an invasive operation, what happens when something goes wrong? Who is on the line, legally? Who is paying for this program? Where are you going to find the doctors willing to actually perform this operation (doctors generally refuse to give them to anyone under 30, most prefer you to be at least 40... trust me, I've looked into it...).

The economic point about incentivizing the wrong people has already been made, as has the social one (quasi-eugenics). However there is also a point to be made about cultural values and humaneness. As such, the author should not recommend a procedure that he wouldn't want done to his own son (call it the transitive golden rule). I certainly respect his original point, and agree strongly that both overpopulation and unwanted children are highly damaging to society. But a lot more could be achieved (and at much lower cost to the tax payer) if condoms were made free and promoted as socially valuable (let's get some celebrity endorsements, mandate condom use in porn, etc.).

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Nate Jackson

I like this line of thought, especially given that the procedure is reversible. This would no doubt achieve the end of fewer unwanted pregnancies but the two major hurdles I see are:

(1) Getting people over the 'weird' factor of such a program and

(2) The unintended results on seemingly consequence free sex. We know that many people aren't great at safe sex already but I have to expect that this would lead to even higher rates of STD's. Could still be worth it!

dj

I work for a Fire/EMS department and a few of my coworkers and I have jokingly floated this idea around for years. Our price tag much higher $10,000 which would equal a much larger group of people buying in, plus an instant economic benefit. (Trust me most people would spend all of it within a matter of weeks). All joking aside the idea is at odds with my moral values, but is very intriguing. I had no idea countries actually are trying it