"Our study found the vast majority of patients seeking IVF treatment were Caucasian, highly educated and wealthy compared to the general population," said Dr. Tarun Jain, University of Illinois at Chicago assistant professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
Jain is the lead author of an article in the July issue of Fertility and Sterility.
Patients at a large infertility clinic in Massachusetts were surveyed to collect demographic and socioeconomic information such as age, ethnicity, education level and income.
The researchers found that among the 561 respondents, nearly half of the patients had advanced degrees and more than 60 percent had an annual household income over $100,000. None of patients had less than a high school diploma.
Most states do not require private insurance companies to pay for infertility treatment. Massachusetts is one of four states (along with Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island) that do.
In a previous study, Jain and colleagues found the use of IVF services were three-fold higher in states that required comprehensive insurance coverage compared to those states with no mandated coverage.
"We expected to find greater diversity among patients who sought IVF treatment in a state with mandated insurance coverage," Jain said. "Interestingly, African American and Latino women were under-represented, while Chinese and other Asian women were over-represented in accessing infertility services."
Jain said this is the first study to highlight disparities in access to infertility services. He said the disparities may be due to a lack of adequate insurance coverage among lower socioeconomic groups, cultural bias against infertility treatment, racial discrimination or a lack of referrals from primary care physicians.
Jain and co-author Dr. Mark Hornstein from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School write that further studies are needed to better understand health disparities in infertility treatment.
For more information about reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, visit www.uicivf.org