The study, led by Professor Marcia Inhorn, an anthropologist at Yale University in Newhaven, Connecticut, is the largest qualitative study into the reasonings behind elective or 'social' egg freezing to date. Some 150 patients undergoing egg freezing without medical reason were interviewed from four fertility clinics in the USA and three clinics in Israel.
'The medical literature and media coverage of oocyte cryopreservation usually suggest that elective egg freezing is being used to defer or delay childbearing among women pursuing education and careers,' explained Professor Inhorn. 'Our study, however, suggests that the lack of a stable partner is the primary motivation.'
She presented the results at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain, last week.
The popularity of social egg freezing has increased at a tremendous rate with approximately 5000 freezing cycles having taken place in the USA in 2013, and 76,000 cycles predicted in 2018. The number of cycles is around 1000 each year in the UK.
The study found ten reasons for why the patients were electively undergoing fertility preservation. The majority of patients - 85 percent, were single women, and their reasons included: no current partner, divorced or a recent break-up from relationship, choosing to be a single mother, working overseas and career planning. However, career planning was the least common reason for elective egg freezing.
For those with partners (15 percent), the reasons were: having a new relationship not yet ready for children, being with a man who did not want children or who was not ready to have children yet, or who had multiple partners.
'Most of the women had already pursued and completed their educational and career goals,' said Professor Inhorn. 'But by their late 30s had been unable to find a lasting reproductive relationship with a stable partner.'
Additional research conducted at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that men in their 20s put obtaining a successful career before considering have children in their priorities. This study was also presented at ESHRE.
'I think we still have in society in large a misapprehension that women are freezing their eggs for frivolous reasons because they'd much rather have careers and buy Gucci handbags and make lots of money working in banks than actually embarking on parenthood,' said Dr Virginia Bolton, of the British Fertility Society.
'This has been debunked by more and more data showing that the reasons are not frivolous at all.'
Dr Bolton added: 'People say, "If they don’t meet Mr Right in time they can just use donor eggs", but for the same reason men don't want their partners to use donor sperm, women don't want to use donor eggs. They would rather have their own.'
The clinical outcomes of egg freezing remain somewhat unclear, as there have not been many fertility treatments using thawed eggs.