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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.