Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why do adoptive parents prefer girls?

From 2004, an article in Slate exploring why the vast majority of adopted children are girls:
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (now part of the Department of Homeland Security) has kept up excellent data on international adoptions over decades of processing visa paperwork. Its word: Girls make up about 64 percent of all children adopted by Americans outside the United States. That's a mere 56 boys for every hundred girls.

What explains the disproportion? If we didn't know better, the most obvious conjecture would be that these numbers simply reflect an imbalance in supply. After all, America's leading source of adoptees is China, where the legacy of female infanticide is the grimmest hallmark of that country's overwhelming preference for males. The organization Families With Children From China reports that about 95 percent of children available for adoption in China are girls. Other Asian adoption hubs (like Korea, the erstwhile lead supplier) have orphan sex ratios that tend in the same direction. So Americans adopt more girls because other countries don't want them, right?

Wrong. Unlike biological parents, who must simply make do with what the procreative coin toss affords them—as in a market determined solely by supply—adoptive parents get to be upfront about their gender preferences. And a look at those preferences suggests that, in fact, the adoption market in China represents a happy coincidence of supply and demand.

Numbers vary, but it's pretty safe to say that somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent of parents looking to adopt register some preference for a girl with an agency. It doesn't matter if they're adopting from China, where girls far outnumber boys; from Russia, where the numbers are about even; or from Cambodia, where there is typically a glut of orphan boys and a paucity of girls. Everywhere, demand tends to favor the feminine.

And, as the case of Cambodia suggests, demand can in fact exert an influence on supply—and not a happy one. In the late '90s, Cambodia became a popular source for American adoptions, thanks to a relatively quick, cheap, and tidy process. But for
whatever reason (some cite a Cambodian tradition that girls are expected to take care of their parents when they get older), Cambodia didn't offer the standard Asian profile of adoptable children. Boys outnumbered girls by a healthy margin. So what happened was what you would expect to happen in an underpoliced free market: Market pressure built up, until certain enterprising Cambodian adoption suppliers, or "facilitators," stepped in and found a way to meet demand.

Evidence of child-trafficking came to light in late 2001 and early 2002, when several poor Cambodian women stepped forward saying they had been approached by someone from an "NGO" who offered them a sum of money—significantly more for a daughter than for a son, though never more than $200—in exchange for their children. When that "NGO" turned out to be an orphanage, the U.S. Embassy and the then-INS slammed the gates on all U.S. adoptions out of Cambodia.
Does anyone know of more recent figures? My feeling would be there hasn't been much change in sex ratios of adoption since 2004, even with the growth of boy adoption from China. While the percentage of boys being adopted from China has been going up, the entire pool of adoption from China has been going down. . . .

In the very earliest days of adoption, far more boys than girls were adopted, because adoption was essentially an estate-planning device to create an heir and only boys qualified as heirs. In the "modern" days of adoption, after World War I, the adoption of girls far outstripped the adoption of boys.

Several reasons have been advanced for that phenomenon. First, women are more likely to be the decision-maker in a "mom & dad" adoption, and are thought to be more likely to prefer girls. Second, while boys are often seen as the ones who "carry on the family name", there's an unconscious idea that non-biological children should not be carrying on the family name. Third, boys who are available for adoption might be perceived as more "difficult," while girls are seen as more malleable and easier to parent. Fourth, to the extent that singles or same-sex families are adopting, there are far more women than men adoption, and they may see themselves as better able to parent a same-sex child.

Any other ideas of why more girls than boys are adopted?


Wendy said...

I believe mostly it is cultural. The receiving countries and AP's tend to be white, culturally we seem to prefer girls--all the stereotypes that come with that increase the likelihood that the children who are adopted will be girls. I think most white American bio parents prefer girls as well. It is personal preference, but we (as a group) tend to want girls for many reasons--"easier", "prettier clothes", daughters closer to their moms, etc. I am NOT saying these things are true, but tend to mirror white culture--look at the princess phenomenon, disgusting and sad, but true.

Mei-Ling said...

Don't the exporting countries prefer to SEND out girls?

Wendy said...

Not all, when we were researching adoption there were countries with more boys and some with more girls--depends on the country's customs and traditions as well as resources.

Mei-Ling said...

Ah, but I was sure there was a cultural mindset that girls are still valued as less than boys?

(Because boys carry the bloodline, etc)

The countries (eg. Korea) have been trying to increase the societal value of girls, but mainly, from what I've seen and read, boys are still favoured.

"there were countries with more boys and some with more girls"

What countries?

Wendy said...

Some of the South American countries seemed to have more boys available. Also, Cambodia as mentioned, we also were told Vietnam was boy heavy (mind you this was four plus years ago). When viewing waiting child lists for the US you will usually see it equals out as the children age--age discrimination is much more prominent than sex preference when the children available are teens.

Anonymous said...

South Korea definitely has more boys available for international adoption. Families can only request a girl if they already have at least one boy and even then will have to wait longer for a referral. The reason given is that domestic adopters in South Korea greatly prefer girls, possibly because of the whole family name "bloodline" idea. (They want a genetic son to carry on the family name.) So there's a "surplus" of boys that aren't adopted domestically.

travelmom and more said...

This is a big topic with many variable reasons for both the supply and demand side of adoption. I have read various theories around why girls are more preferable by adoptive parents, many of them centered on adoption being female driven and women wanting a daughter to bond with. Many people go into adoption wanting to "save" children and there is a misconception that there are more girls needing "saved" in the world than boys. The one issue I have not heard discussed is the issue of masculine identity. Looking at Asia and South America men tend to be smaller and in western perception of male attraction small equals less desirable. I have often wondered if how we define favorable masculine traits lends itself to the preference for girls over boys in transracial adoption. Maybe because my daughter is from China I see a lot of families in the program who have multiple boys and they want a daughter. I am not sure how many families with multiple daughters go to adoption for a Son, but it would be interesting to find out.

As for Wendy's comment about white Americans preferring girls, I disagree. There is as much of a patriarchal preference for boys in the US and other Western countries as anywhere in the world, maybe more.
It is my understanding that most IA programs have more boys available than girls and if you want a girl the waiting list is longer. I know this was the case with Guatamala and my agency just started an Etheopia program that they said had more boys available.

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Scott O said...

Having two bio sons, we were first drawn to the China program in hopes of daughter (HIGAYAP). Within a couple weeks our plans changed when we saw a 2 year old boy on our agency's waiting child list. He was one of the last children on the current list without a family. We couldn't understand why he was still waiting, so we changed our plans. We thought maybe we could get a daughter the next time. But when we were able to adopt a second time, things worked out that we brought home another son, with a similar special need.
Having watched an agency's waiting child program for several years we saw time and again that girls with much more severe special needs found homes before boys on the list. I don't know why the bias exists, but I know it does.

Father of four boys.

Mei-Ling said...

"The reason given is that domestic adopters in South Korea greatly prefer girls, possibly because of the whole family name "bloodline" idea."

... I'm confused. Females can carry on the bloodline traditions as well?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mei-Ling,
The children born to married couples in South Korea are automatically entered into the husband's family registry, not the wife's. It's almost like the females are "dead ends" when it comes to their natal family's "bloodlines." Their children are considered to really "belong" to the husband's family, not the wife's. And children who are born to unmarried women have a new family registry started for them. They are not eligible to go into either their mother's or father's family registry simply because their parents are not married.