Clinic operators say there has been a shortage of Asian eggs for several years but that the deficit has been exacerbated by two factors: rising Chinese wealth, which has given more couples the means to come to the U.S. for surrogate parent programs, and this year a surge in Chinese couples interested in having babies in the Year of the Dragon, considered the luckiest year in the 12-year zodiac calendar.
One reason for the lack of supply is that Asian women are less likely to go through the discomfort of egg donations out of financial need. On average, Asian women earn higher salaries and are more likely to be college-educated than their counterparts in other racial groups, according to Labor Department statistics. Asian females out-earn white women by 13%, black women by 31% and Latinas by 52%, the agency said.
"A lot of young women who elect to be egg donors do so for financial reasons," Vorzimer said. "But many Asian and Jewish donors who are in such high demand are young ladies who do not need that financial compensation. They are financially secure, so they don't need to donate their eggs to fund a college education or a down payment on a first home."
Big fees aren't enough to attract Asian donors, in some cases. Last year, Jackie Gorton, owner of an egg donor and surrogacy agency in San Rafael, Calif., placed an ad in a local Chinese newspaper on behalf of a couple from Hong Kong. The ad offered $25,000 but got no response.
"Asians are very private, and this is a big shame for them," Gorton said. "It depends on how westernized they are."
After finding an egg donor ad on Craigslist, Nina Sherman, 25, had few qualms about donating her eggs three times in exchange for $21,000. Sherman said the egg agency lavished her with attention.
"I'm 100% pure Filipino," said the Los Angeles Valley College student. "They seemed to like that."
But many Asian donors are like Reina Arai, 27, who grew up in Pasadena and is now going for her master's degree at the University of Maryland. She has yet to tell her Japanese American parents that she is a four-time egg donor.
"If they found out about this" Arai said, "they would probably be like 'What the hell are you doing?'"
Some agencies are so desperate for Asian donors that they are looking beyond the U.S.
Surrogate Alternatives in San Diego has about 400 potential donors on its roster, but only two are ethnically Asian. To bring up its Asian numbers, the agency plans to start flying in women from China and Japan, Chief Executive Diana Van De Voort-Perez said.
"Even if we didn't have a couple immediately interested, which is highly unlikely, we would have [the donor] come over and freeze her eggs," Van De Voort-Perez said. "There is no doubt we'll have an Asian couple later who will pick the eggs we have frozen."
For Latina, African American and non-Jewish woman, the number of willing donors often outstrips demand.
Heart to Heart Egg Donations in Beverly Hills is an agency that specializes in African American donors. It has a roster of about 125 women willing to be paid donors. But the agency had only 22 black or mixed-race couples last year seeking black donors.
Agency owner Fran Williams said many African American couples don't have the means to spend thousands of dollars with no guarantee of a baby.
"Some other agencies won't even bother putting these [black] donors in their database," Williams said, "because they'll just sit there for years."
Chimere Dickson, 31, an African American executive assistant from Philadelphia, waited four years before getting selected, then was paid $6,000 for one donation cycle.
"I would be up for doing this again," she said, "but I don't know if I'll be picked again."
Robyn Dedeaux, 28, also African American, is probably getting a second payday. After being paid $6,500 for a donation in September, she was selected by a couple to donate again later this year. But Dedeaux knows she won't get the kind of pay bump offered to Asian women.
"That kind of sucks, but I guess it's supply and demand," said Dedeaux, an insurance claims adjuster in Ontario. "At the fertility clinic I was going to get shots, the majority of the couples going in there were Asian, and most of the baby photos on the walls were Asian."