Free sterilisation

From Dan Ariely:

Last year, the Danish government announced that sterilization, which had been free, would cost at least 7,000 kroner (~$1,300) for men and 13,000 kroner (~$2,500) for women as of January 1st, 2011. Following the announcement, doctors performing sterilizations found that their patient load suddenly surged. People were scrambling to get sterilized while it was still free.

Now, it could be that the people who were already planning on getting sterilized at some point in the future just made their appointments a bit sooner, and conveniently saved some money.  But I can also imagine that (much like our research on free tattoos) there were many people who did not really think much about sterilization before the price change, but were so averse to giving up such a good deal that it pushed them to take the offer and undergo a fairly serious procedure.

Traits that lead people to voluntarily cut their fertility should reduce in prevalence in the long-term, and this is an interesting (but small) acceleration.

For those that consider that people (and their capacity to create and invent) are the ultimate resource and that each person generates, on average, positive social welfare, this policy would have benefits in more than one dimension. An important question, however, is whether the average characteristics of those that undergo the now expensive sterilisation differ from those who underwent the procedure before. Is sterilisation in Denmark now the domain of the well-off?


  1. “Traits that lead people to voluntarily cut their fertility should reduce in prevalence in the long-term, and this is an interesting (but small) acceleration.”

    Not if people getting sterilized have already had children.

    I’m sure there will be demographic differences between people who will and will not pay for sterilization, I’m just not sure if income would be the strongest difference. First instance, imagine how the analysis might differ if the willingness to pay for sterilization is a function of the number of children one has.

    1. I agree that willingness to pay for sterilisation is certainly going to be a function of the number of children they already have. However, I have two thoughts:

      1) After controlling for income, number of children, desired number of additional children and whatever other factors you want to throw in, those that are sterilised will have lower fertility than those who are not (even allowing for reversal – the cost and effort of reversal are a good commitment device). This will hold even amongst those who desire zero additional children.
      2) Those with a higher opportunity cost for the $1,300 or $2,500 will reduce their use of sterilisation to a greater extent – and those would be lower income individuals.

      Even taking in those two points, income may not be the strongest determinant of who continues to be sterilised (be nice to get the data on this later and test it empirically) but I am confident it will not be irrelevant.

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