Published: April 10, 2024


Little is known about the motivations and outcomes of sellers in remunerated markets for human materials. We exploit dramatic growth in the U.S. blood plasma industry to shed light on the sellers of plasma. Sellers tend to be young and liquidity-constrained with low-incomes and limited access to traditional credit. Plasma centers absorb demand for non-traditional credit. After a plasma center opens nearby, demand for payday loans falls by over 13% among young borrowers. Meanwhile, foot traffic increases by over 4% at nearby stores, suggesting that constrained households use plasma markets to smooth consumption without appealing to high-cost debt.

When you’re financially strapped, selling plasma can be an appealing option to drum up some quick cash.

Pharmaceutical companies often pay around $50 per donation for the pale-yellow blood component, a key ingredient in medications that treat immune disorders and other illnesses. Plasma pay can reach as high as $200 per donation during times of severe shortages, and advertisements pitch earnings of $800 per month for new donors who commit to a certain number of donations. 

Sellers of plasma tend to be low-income, age 35 or younger, underemployed and lacking a college degree, according to research co-authored by Emily Gallagher, assistant professor of finance in the Leeds School of Business. They’re often parents, and sometimes single parents. They are also more likely to identify as Black or male.

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