Nav: Home

Study finds gestational surrogacy often misunderstood, unevenly judged

March 29, 2016

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For more than 30 years women have been working as surrogates for strangers who are unable to bear children.

A University of Texas at Arlington researcher has found that although the majority of today's surrogates are compensated for their services, many of the women are reluctant to think of themselves as workers and outsiders often misunderstand their vocation.

Heather Jacobson, associate professor of sociology, offers the first book-length ethnographic examination of gestational surrogacy in the U.S. in "Labor of Love: Gestational Surrogacy and the Work of Making Babies (Rutgers University Press)." Jacobson explores the complexities of surrogacy and conflicted attitudes that emerge when the act of bringing a child into the world becomes a paid occupation.

"Many people have a difficult time understanding why someone would want to carry a baby for a stranger," said Jacobson, whose interest in surrogacy stems from her studies of family formation. "I found most surrogates in my study loved being a surrogate. They were interested in helping others have a child because they enjoyed being pregnant. They saw it as something they were good at - a skill set."

Elisabeth Cawthon, acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Jacobson's research provides valuable insights about reproductive technology affecting Americans and changing how we think about maternity, family and the labor involved in giving birth.

"Dr. Jacobson does a comprehensive job of dissecting the complex set of social attitudes underlying gestational surrogacy, its role in health and gender studies," Cawthon said. "There are a lot of misconceptions about infertility, reproductive technologies and surrogacy that are reinforced in the media, popular television programs and movies; and, this work will help advance the larger conversation about these issues and help to correct misinformation."

Cawthon added that the research is representative of UTA's commitment to advancing health and the human condition as outlined in UTA's Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

In her studies, Jacobson found surrogates and others involved in surrogacy having to navigate basic misconceptions about the medical procedures involved and the motivations and experiences people have in surrogacy.

The research is based on in-depth interviews conducted between 2009-2015 with surrogates that Jacobson connected with through surrogate agencies and various digital platforms. In addition to surrogates, she interviewed, their family members, the "intended parents" who employ surrogates, infertility doctors, directors of surrogacy agencies, family lawyers, and various other professionals who work to facilitate gestational surrogacy - an advanced reproductive technology that allows women to be surrogates without contributing their own eggs.

The surrogates in her study were between the ages of 25 and 45 at the time of the interviews, with the oldest surrogate having given birth to a "surro-baby" at the age of 41. All were paid, from $15,000 to $35,000. Most of the women were married, financially stable and all had children of their own. Most were Caucasian, but there were also Hispanic and African-American surrogates in the study. Jacobson noted that the majority of the surrogates in her study were not stay-at-home mothers, as often assumed, but worked outside of the home in what are called the 'caring professions' -- such as nursing, teaching, social services or social work.

Surrogacy itself is not federally regulated, so there is no federal data on the numbers of surrogacies in the United States, Jacobson said. According to the book, there are an estimated 1,500 surrogate births per year in the U.S.

"I found it interesting that surrogates are reluctant to think of this as work because they engage in a tremendous amount of labor in helping to produce a child for people who desperately want one," Jacobson said. "They re-arrange their lives and the lives of their families, and if the pregnancy goes well, it can be a year-long investment--if there are complications, it can be a many year investment."

In the book, Jacobson investigates why not only surrogates, but the surrogacy industry, are reluctant to think about surrogacy as work.

Jacobson joined the UTA Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2006. She holds both a Ph.D. and Master's degree in Sociology from Brandeis University. She also has a Master's degree in Women's Studies from the University of Dublin, Trinity College. She earned bachelor's degrees in drama and history from Carnegie Mellon University.

In her first book, "Culture Keeping: White Mothers, International Adoption, and the Negotiation of Family Difference (Vanderbilt Press, 2008)," she examined how conceptions of family and of race shape the ethnic practices of international adoptive families with children from China and Russia.
"Labor of Love: Gestational Surrogacy and the Work of Making Babies" is available now at and at the UTA Bookstore, 400 S. Pecan St.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie "highest research activity" institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at

University of Texas at Arlington

Related Health Articles:

Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.
Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.
Geographic and health system correlates of interprofessional oral health practice
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health (Volume 6, Number 2, 2018, pp.
Bloomberg era's emphasis on 'health in all policies' improved New Yorkers' heart health
From 2002 to 2013, New York City implemented a series of policies prioritizing the public's health in areas beyond traditional healthcare policies and illustrated the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Youth consider mobile health units a safe place for sexual health services
Mobile health units bring important medical services to communities across the country.
Toddler formulas and milks -- not recommended by health experts -- mislead with health claims
Misleading labeling on formulas and milks marketed as 'toddler drinks' may confuse parents about their healthfulness or necessity, finds a new study by researchers at the NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
Women's health has worsened while men's health has improved, trends since 1990 show
Swedish researchers have studied health trends among women and men aged 25-34 from 1990-2014.
Health insurance changes, access to care by patients' mental health status
A research letter published by JAMA Psychiatry examined access to care before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after the ACA for patients grouped by mental health status using a scale to assess mental illness in epidemiologic studies.
Community health workers lead to better health, lower costs for Medicaid patients
As politicians struggle to solve the nation's healthcare problems, a new study finds a way to improve health and lower costs among Medicaid and uninsured patients.
More Health News and Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at