Interestingly, some of the women were in relationships – but froze their eggs because they didn’t believe their partner was father material and were hoping someone better would come along.
Egg freezing was introduced to give cancer patients who face being left infertile by their treatment the chance to have children later. But it is becoming increasingly common for women to freeze eggs for lifestyle reasons.
Some 816 British women put motherhood on ice in 2014, the latest available figures. This was a 25 per cent increase on 2013 and almost a 30-fold rise since 2001, when just 29 women froze their eggs. But experts warn it is risky as many women struggle to get pregnant using frozen eggs.
Mrs Baldwin, a PhD student at De Montfort University in Leicester, interviewed 31 women who had frozen eggs up to seven years earlier. The women were mostly middle-class and highly educated and were aged 38, on average, when they had the treatment.
Mrs Baldwin, a sociologist, said: ‘I asked them about their motivations and I would say none of the women underwent the procedure for career reasons.’
Instead, the women threw themselves into their work to compensate for being unable to find a suitable man, the research, presented at the British Science Festival in Swansea, suggested. Mrs Baldwin said: ‘One of the women said to me, “Yes, I’ve got a great career but that’s not because I’ve deliberately avoided relationships, it’s because there was no one to go home to, so I stayed late at the office”.’
The women also told of their difficulty in finding a partner as committed to parenthood as them. Mrs Baldwin said: ‘There is this increasing expectation for men to play a larger role in the home and in the raising of children. I think these women really had this expectation of their male partners and that hope wasn’t met.’
The comments echo those of Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, who said earlier this year: ‘There is a notion that young men are not committed to relationships in the way they have been in the past.’
Mrs Baldwin also said that while egg freezing is touted by some as a ‘quick fix’ to the problem of a woman’s ticking biological clock, it doesn’t help address the reasons that lead to women using it, including the lack of a suitable partner, unstable job markets and soaring property prices.
Others have warned egg freezing does not guarantee motherhood. Since 2001, 3,676 British women have frozen eggs but fewer than 60 babies have been born to them.
Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer, has described the process as being ‘grossly oversold by commercial interests with very little practical chance of a baby’.
Last night Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create St Paul’s in London, Europe’s largest IVF clinic, said one reason men struggle to commit is because they are under less biological pressure to become parents than women.
Dr Nargund also expressed concern that the women studied didn’t freeze their eggs until 38 – when fertility has already plummeted.