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Soc Sci Med. 2014 Apr;106:53-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.041. Epub 2014 Jan 31.

Who donates their bodies to science? The combined role of gender and migration status among California whole-body donors.

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Department of Sociology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Electronic address:
Organizational Behavior Area, Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Morgan Hall 321, Boston, MA 02163, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Sociology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. Electronic address:


The number of human cadavers available for medical research and training, as well as organ transplantation, is limited. Researchers disagree about how to increase the number of whole-body bequeathals, citing a shortage of donations from the one group perceived as most likely to donate from attitudinal survey data - educated white males over 65. This focus on survey data, however, suffers from two main limitations: First, it reveals little about individuals' actual registration or donation behavior. Second, past studies' reliance on average survey measures may have concealed variation within the donor population. To address these shortcomings, we employ cluster analysis on all whole-body donors' data from the Universities of California at Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Two donor groups emerge from the analyses: One is made of slightly younger, educated, married individuals, an overwhelming portion of whom are U.S.-born and have U.S.-born parents, while the second includes mostly older, separated women with some college education, a relatively higher share of whom are foreign-born and have foreign-born parents. Our results demonstrate the presence of additional donor groups within and beyond the group of educated and elderly white males previously assumed to be most likely to donate. More broadly, our results suggest how the intersectional nature of donors' demographics - in particular, gender and migration status - shapes the configuration of the donor pool, signaling new ways to possibly increase donations.


Cluster analysis; Gender; Migration status; Organ donation; United States; Whole-body donation

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