The Sperm-Supply Problem

There’s a shortage of sperm in Britain! Apparently, Britain needs donations for about 4,000 women per year; to reach that number, about 500 sperm donors per year are required, while only 300 are currently registered. Things were fine until 2005, when a law was enacted allowing children of sperm donors the right to discover the identity of their father at age 18; simultaneously, the number of women who could use the same donor’s sperm was limited further.

The first change scared off a lot of potential donors, shifting the supply curve of sperm to the left, while the second change caused the demand curve for individual donors to shift to the right.

Because there is no price that might help the market reach equilibrium, Britain has been forced to search elsewhere for donated sperm. The shortage is getting worse, with some women who want babies not having them, and others resorting to imported sperm. The simultaneous restrictions have made both potential mothers and some donors who might have been altruistic enough to donate unable or unwilling to participate.

The potential solutions are clear — either loosen the restriction on the number of women who can be inseminated by one donor’s sperm (the Dutch have a limit of 25 women per donor); pay for sperm, as in the U.S. and Spain; and/or reinstitute donor anonymity.


Can they reinstate donor anonymity though? When it was removed it was backdated to allow identification of past donors so presumably if they reinstate anonymity then people will still expect to be identified one day.

Unless they delete the records (and given the British government the records are more likely to be left on an airplane to Russia than deleted) I don't see how they can reinstate the expectation of anonymity.


I'd just like to add that, while this is a titillating subject and lends itself to flippancy, there is a real human cost to a lack of sperm donors.

If you know anyone who's been through the agony of infertility, I don't have to tell you this. If you don't: take my word for it. It is agony.

The anonymity restriction has some (in my opinion) justifiable human-rights argument behind it. And geographical/numerical restrictions also make some sense. But not paying for donations? That's just senseless squeamishness. If you're providing an enormously beneficial life-changing service, at some personal risk (given the lack of anonymity), then why the heck shouldn't you be paid?


The problem became even more accute after the pubs were allowed to stay open later.


I beleive there are plenty of available babies, if not sperm donors. Start encouraging these women to consider adoption.


According to HFEA figures, the numbers of sperm donors have gone *up* in the two years since the ending of anonymity, thus reversing a three year decline. The 307 donors in 2006 was 48 more than in 2005, and the highest figure since 2001.

The limit of recipients per donor hasn't changed since 1991 btw.

I don't have a huge problem with sperm donors being paid, or the numbers of children per donor being increased, but we should never go back to the days of anonymous donors. The donor-conceived are the ones who matter in this, not the parents, not the clinics, and not the donors.

If a sperm donor wants to be anonymous, then he simply shouldn't be a sperm donor. I was a sperm donor over 20 years ago, and if I have any genetic children looking for me, I've made it as easy as possible for them to find me.


Ben, there are not plenty of infants waiting to be adopted. In fact there are plenty of parents waiting to adopt. It is also understandable that some mothers want children genetically related to them.


So, the donor doesn't even get a minimal stipend for his time? I believe that anonymous sperm donors generally ARE paid in the US.

In the US, most blood is given by unpaid donors. But the blood isn't free to to the hospitals and recipients, the cost of collection, testing, and storage are chargd by the Red Cross and other blood banks. With sperm donation, there is less overhead, especially for testing for diseases. No crossmatching, etc. is required to match the specimen with a recipient and you don't risk killing the recipient by getting the crossmatch wrong.

It is easier to collect the sperm, no needles and special collection tubing and bags are required, and far less is required for correct handling of the specimen after collection.

But the altruistic difference is that in donating blood, you believe you are saving lives. In donating sperm, you believe you may be creating life or perpetuating your genetic lineage. I suppose this is an equal tradeoff.



British women appear to have forgotten that there are ways of getting pregnant that are a lot more fun and don't require a sperm bank.


I've gotten paid to donate for a couple of years now. Best part-time job I've ever had.


The ending of anonymity in itself was not the problem in the UK it was also the refusal of the Government and in particular the zealous anti-male element to say that the Child Support Agency would not be hounding the sperm donors for child maintenance payments as the biological fathers. I seem to recall the chief Harpie* , Harriet Harmen, seeming to indicate that pursuing the donors would in fact be policy.

*Harpie - see


All the motivational books say, "Find something you love doing, and be the best at it, and you will be paid well for doing it."

Why didn't I think of this before?


qaqwex: You appear to be confusing private and clinic sperm donation. UK clinic donors have not been financially liable for child maintenance for any of their donor children since the Human Fertisation and Embryology Act 1990, which was long before the ending of of anonymous donation, or indeed before anyone had heard of Harriet Harman.

Like I said earlier, there are actually *more* donors since the ending of donor anonymity anyway.


The problem is that those few men who are considered "adequate" are already tapped out "donating" the old fashion way!


Demand and supply curves. They dictate everything. The market equilibrium price should be found by the use of such marvelous curves.
The demand for sperm has increased, and the supply for it has decreased, there is only one thing left to do, the price of sperm should be increased, therefore, making sperm available only to those who are more willing to buy it, meaning, the ones paying more for sperm will be the ones to get it.
If the price of sperm increases, then the quantity demanded will decrease and the quantity supplied will increase, therefore, reaching the market equilibrium price and quantity.


This is actually a funny article. Since the solution in my opinion is not that hard. Either women start adopting, due to the fact that there are many children in poor countries waiting to be raised, or as JoseAngelCMS suggests sperm could have a higher price. Then only those who really badly want to have a baby, and have the income to raise it, will be able to have one. The quantity demanded of sperm will be less because of its elevated price, reducing the chances of a sperm shortage, reaching market equilibrium. But the article says clearly that a price which establishes market equilibrium, therefore I believe the first option is better, women start adopting, there are plenty of children out there needing your help.


According to this article, donors can receive payments for lost wages and travel expenses.

It also points out that backpackers are big donors and are being encouraged to donate, presumably because they're young and fertile. One would also imagine that lack of donor anonymity would be less of an issue for backpackers - if you're going to be heading back to the colonies your offspring in the mother country will have less of a chance of tracking you down.

A mate has recently arrived in the UK and with the economic climate is having some difficulties finding a job in his area. Perhaps with fewer jobs available for backpackers, we will see more young travelling men resorting to offering themselves as 'handymen' for a few extra quid?


on the pay thing though there are two outcomes that could be worse for the industry.

Similar to blood donation, paying for blood leads to drug addicts etc, those in need of money, donating blood. similar thing could happen here meaning lower quality sperm etc.

Further if someone is being paid, it kind of "cheapens" the act of altruism. The reward in this case is purely altruistic, so if one starts being paid, those who are currently altruistic may cease donating, and hence reduce the quantity of sperm in the market.

Tkwon CMS

Here, demand has stayed the same (if not gone up) while supply has gone down significantly.

Like Mr.Hamermesh said, there are 2 solutions if we want to increase supply: 1. Pay sperm donors. 2. Bring back sperm donor anonymity.

Both of these solutions, however, pose problems. For 1., there may be the problem where women may not want sperm from men who sell their sperm purely for the money (they may think that men desperate enough to sell their sperm may not have the most desirable traits for their future children)
As for 2., it seems highly unlikely that the UK gov't would bring back donor anonymity.

So here's a third solution (already suggested by others)... if we consider sperm a "normal good", wouldn't baby adoption be considered (however crude this may sound) an "inferior good"?


I know where the United Kingdom can find plenty of babies for any women who would like one:

It is a curious situation indeed, when one group of people desperately wants something and another desperately wants to get rid of the same thing, yet there is no transaction.


Putting a price on sperm sounds like the best econ solution- as only those who are willing and able to buy will receive them. Putting a price will allow narrow the number of mothers to those who truly want to have a child, and willing to raise them. Similarly, adoption seems like a great alternative solution - as Sarah CMS said. Furthermore, government should consider limiting the number of mother who can receive from one donor, "reinstitute donor anonymity" and others new ideas. However, I believe it is an important task for the government to establish a better environment for a woman to be able to acquire child, not from sperm donations or adoptions, but to create a new life between two loving couple.