Single religious women make up most Israelis who froze their eggs - study

One in three women who froze eggs before the age of 40 gave birth from the frozen eggs, but only one out of 11 who froze after the age of 40 gave birth with their help.

Egg freezing process (illustrative) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Egg freezing process (illustrative)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Although it costs women NIS 6,500 per cycle to freeze their ova and thousands of shekels more for medication for the process, only 13% of those who did so in the last decade to conceive later actually had them implanted. Most of the women who had their ova frozen for later use were religious Jews who had not yet married, a new study out of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem found.

The average age of planned oocyte cryopreservation was 37.9 years, and at the time of thawing the eggs was 43.3. One in three women who froze eggs before the age of 40 gave birth from the frozen eggs, but only one out of 11 who froze after the age of 40 gave birth with their help, according to the first-ever Israeli study of its kind.

The study, published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics under the title “Clinical outcome of planned oocyte cryopreservation at advanced age,” was led by Prof. Ido Ben-Ami, Dr. Avi Tsafrir and Dr. Jordana Hyman, senior experts in SZMC’s department of fertility and its in-vitro fertilization (IVF) unit.

Which Israeli women are freezing their eggs and why?

The researchers suggested that the unmarried, mostly Modern Orthodox Jewish women wished to “buy time” at the time of freezing in the hope of getting married in the future, but over the years, some give up this alternative and try to conceive with donor sperm.

Seventy percent of the women who froze eggs at SZMC defined themselves as Modern Orthodox, while 18% said they were secular, 6% ultra-Orthodox (haredi) and 6% traditional. Fully 62% of the women who froze eggs at the fertility department reported that they were not sexually active.

 A woman checks an ovulation test (credit: INGIMAGE) A woman checks an ovulation test (credit: INGIMAGE)

The follow-up lasted 2.5 to 10 years from the date of freezing. The women who returned for implantation treatment did so after an average of five years from the ova freezing.

The study showed a significant increase in the number of women interested in a fertility preservation procedure through egg freezing. In 2011, only 26 women went through the process at SZMC; their numbers grew to 122 in 2020.

From 2011 to 2018, 446 women froze their eggs at the Jerusalem hospital. Their average age was 36.6; 38% were younger than 35, and 15% were over 40. Almost all of them were single and had no children. The main reason for the procedure was the lack of a partner, they said.

Most of the women who decided to undergo the procedure had an academic background or were high-school graduates, according to the stats. The most common professional occupation was work in the field of education (22%), social work and other therapeutic professions (20%), and other academic professions such as editing, accounting, healthcare and others (28%).

“About a decade ago, egg freezing ‘out of choice’ allowed by the Health Ministry made it possible to preserve eggs in order to conceive with their help at an age when they are no longer fertile naturally. The number of women choosing this process is increasing over the years in the world and in Israel.”

Dr. Avi Tsafrir

“About a decade ago, egg freezing ‘out of choice’ allowed by the Health Ministry made it possible to preserve eggs in order to conceive with their help at an age when they are no longer fertile naturally. The number of women choosing this process is increasing over the years in the world and in Israel,” said Tsafrir.

Public interest in elective egg freezing is growing, the researchers wrote, because women understand the meaning of postponing the childbearing age and the fact that the current fertility treatments are not effective at an advanced age.

The team asserted that it is very important to undergo ova freezing at a relatively young age, because after the age of 40, the chances for success are very low.

The team added that women who try to conceive do so first naturally or through regular fertility treatment and leave the frozen eggs for the last attempt, and thus perhaps preserve this possibility for having another child at an older age.

Since the chance of success does not depend on the length of time the eggs are kept frozen and considering the high birth rate in Israel, they assumed that over time, many women would try to conceive a second or a third time with the help of the frozen eggs at an age when this is no longer possible naturally.

“Our IVF unit is one of the first in Israel to begin freezing eggs for the purpose of elective fertility preservation,” said Ben-Ami. “Elective egg freezing is, unfortunately, not included in the health basket, and to allow many women who wish to preserve their fertility to perform the procedure, we reduced the cost significantly in the past few years to allow those who want it to afford it. In addition, in parallel with this research, we are monitoring the pregnancy rates obtained as a result of the use of frozen ova; so far, they are high, placing SZMC’s unit ahead of most of Israel’s and the world’s IVF unit rates.”