About the research

Since 1991 more than 35,000 children have been born in the UK as a result of donor conception and increased access to new reproductive technologies means families with children conceived through donor conception will become more and more common.

In this project, we explored what it means to families to have a child born through donor conception. Does it mean different things for heterosexual parents and lesbian parents? What is it like for the ‘non-genetic’ parent? How do grandparents feel about having a grandchild who is conceived with the help of an egg, sperm or embryo donor?

We interviewed 44 couples who conceived using a donor and 30 grandparents of donor-conceived children to understand the important question about what to tell the child, and wider family, about their genetic origins. And what 'counts' as a family when your child shares a genetic link with a 'relative stranger' but not your partner?

Key messages from our research

Our key messages leaflet covers:

  • How and why parents decided to use donor sperm or eggs
  • The different experiences of lesbian mothers and heterosexual mothers and fathers
  • Telling donor-conceived children, and others, that they were donor-conceived
  • Balancing openness about donor conception with family privacy
  • Do genetic links matter to families? What happens when you don’t have a genetic link to your child?
  • How families felt about donors (known and unknown) and ‘donor siblings’
  • How grandparents and other family members felt about donor conception

Research team

Prof Carol Smart (Principal Investigator), Dr Petra Nordqvist (Research Associate and Co-Investigator).


The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Ref: RES-062-23-2810 and ran from 1 October 2010 to 30 June 2013. We also received connected funding from the ESRC Impact Accelerator Award, January to July 2014.