Get Paid $1,500 to Have a Vasectomy?

A reader from Wadsworth, Ohio, named Tom Morris writes with an idea. He is a lawyer and, he says, and an “occasional acting judge in a small town”:

In my capacity as acting judge, I find myself repeatedly dealing with the same issues. Young adults irresponsibly having kids without any ability, either monetarily or emotionally, to raise them.  These unwanted kids are left unsupervised, and are more likely to commit crimes and have more unwanted kids, which continues this cycle.

While I have not crunched the numbers to support this hypothesis, it is consistent with Dr. Levitt’s study made famous from your first book. Unwanted children are a bad thing. Preventing this “bad thing” would lead to a reduction in crime, reduction in poverty, and a reduction of just about every other social ill I can think of.

As always, solutions tend to reveal themselves by properly [offering] incentives to the situation for the desired results.  To that end, we need an economic plan, not an ad campaign to solve this problem.  Here is my shot, tell me what you think.

Plan: the government offers $1,500 to every 18-year-old male in exchange for them getting a vasectomy provided at no charge.

Advantages:  First, it would help reduce unwanted pregnancy.  So much of the burden falls on the girls to stop the pregnancy as boys tend to become only interested in the sex, and not the byproduct therefrom.

Second, we get to the results of Levitt’s “abortion crime-rate” study, without the need to get into the abortion argument. The unwanted children are never conceived.

Third, those people who would be attracted to the money are probably not in a financial position to be having kids in the first place.

Finally, if a person desires to have children in the future, they could have the procedure reversed (at their own cost).  This barrier of entry to having a child, I would argue, is also a good thing.

Let me know what you think so I can quit the law practice and start work on my doctoral thesis and eventual Nobel Prize.

Tom isn’t alone in thinking along these lines — our WNYC colleagues RadioLab did a story on Project Prevention (data here), which has paid thousands of drug addicts and alcoholics to not have babies. In India, men and women who agree to be sterilized have been offered cash, TVs, and cars. That said, should Tom start writing his Nobel speech?

Nat parker

This is a wonderful idea. Project prevention is the only honest environmental, social, medical, globally responsible futuristic charity I know of. 100% valid solution

Philip W

So the issue is neglected children, right? What about something like this instead:

The government partners with an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters to identify "at risk" children. It pairs these children with socio-economically "successful" mentors who are awarded $1500 per mentee that achieves some goal (perhaps, graduating high school, or not being incarcerated by 18, or not get pregnant/impregnate by 18).

$1500 isn't enough of an incentive to attract deadbeat mentors when multiple year investment is required, but might be enough to attract those who are on the fence about mentoring in the first place. You could even offer $750 to the mentor and $750 to the mentee.

Noli Me Tangere

I like the idea but whether it is medically feasible on such a scale is another matter. I'd like to hear a doctor's opinion on the matter first.

Assuming the program is financially feasible, implementing it may still generate unintended consequences like higher incidences of STDs and GDP-cripplingly low birth rates in the long run.

In a proper democracy, the solution should always spring from an informed electorate exercising qualified, free will. I submit society would be better off with a more expensive, socially-inclusive educational program.


"In a proper democracy, the solution should always spring from an informed electorate..."

Great idea! Now explain where you find an informed electorate.


I wanted to like this idea. I really did. But the more I thought about the idea, the worse it got. Here is a list.

1. About 250,000 girls UNDER the age of 18 get pregnant each year. This solution misses out on the most troublesome of of teen pregnancies -- those that occur while the mother (and/or father) are still in school.

2. Have you ever met an 18-year-old male? None of them want a kid. They all want $1,500. None think ahead. You're looking at a severe decline in birth rate.

3. In practice, far more minorities are likely to take this deal because of the percentage of those groups in poverty. In essence, you'd be purging a race.

4. Some religions - Catholicism comes to mind - do not condone vasectomies.

5. Many religious people even who don't have religious objections to vasectomies will still view this as begging young adults to have premarital sex.

6. Use of contraceptives will likely go down and the STD rate will likely go up.

Those are just a few.



Thinking out loud here. Is it possible this could have a side-effect of an increase in STDs? How many young couples avoid sex for fear of pregnancy? If pregnancy was no longer a risk - would this lead to an increase in ... well ... sex?

Tina Marshall

As a lawyer myself, I see a massive class action suit against the government by the people who willfully had this done as inevitable. Besides that, I think giving people the choice to control their fertility and destiny is a great idea.

Eric M. Jones

Ask a bunch of ninth graders if they want to have kids. They ALL want to have kids!

Rich Perez

The idea borders on farcical. It's too permanent...and it lacks long term vision. What if the 18 year old is ready, willing and able to properly raise a child at 28? Too late?


This is such a great idea. Let's balance it out on the other end, too. Offer $1500 to each adult willing to take a medically assisted suicide before they draw social security. Why not similarly incentivize terminal illnesses like ALS? That way you could eliminate the drag on society stemming from extended life spans brought about by excessive medical intervention while also shoring up the burden of all those pesky kids.

Oh wait, that's crazy. You never know which child or adult might have a valuable contribution to society no matter their social circumstances. Let's not forget that poor kids can just as well turn out to be hard working innovators. I'd rather see the government incentivize fathers to stay with their kids (or harshly de-incentivize absenteeism). And I'd much rather see a society that urges family cohesion as a social norm rather than a social option.

Ryan Sandoval

You have to compare how much you can pay people not to have kids, or how much the government already pays them to have kids. The incentive is already there.

J Boat

I will propose a theory that :
the young girls, given the option to choose a sex partner, will prefer the non-sterile male, for multiple other reasons including a wish to' lock in' a preferred possibly potential male provider.


The immediate problem is that the probability of failure of the vasectomy reversal is too high. But as a thought experiment...

The obvious solution would be to disable everybody's fertility at birth. Then require people to deposit some amount in a savings account when ready to have a child. One could then disburse this amount to them monthly after the child is born.

Having a baby is expensive, so requiring a "downpayment" doesn't seem unreasonable.

One could add a feature like student loan forgiveness programs where, if you work in some socially desirable, low-paying field like teaching in low-income areas, your deposit would be paid for you after a period of work.