Boys and Girls

I attended a training yesterday, for professionals in the adoption world. The speaker was talking about what beliefs we as adoption workers bring to our work. I thought it really was an appropriate and timely discussion and I wish we talked about this more openly in our field.

One thing the presenter brought up was that in her experience (mostly with international and private agency domestic adoption) is that the majority of prospective adoptive parents want girls, and Asian girls specifically if they are adopting internationally. She says that in the international sphere at least (and she works for one of the biggest and most respected agencies in our area), they have to do special "marketing" for boys. The presenter wondered aloud why that was.

After the presentation, I offered my hypothesis.

1) Asian girls are seen as being submissive, obedient, and more easily assimilated. We’re cute, when we grow up we’re "exotic" and as one person in the audience today mentions, we’re "smart."

2) Little boys of color grow into MEN of color. And there’s nothing more fearsome than a Man of color. Unless it’s an Asian man, and then the stereotype is that of an emasculated man.

In my experience, the preference for girls (when adopting) is overwhelming, crossing all racial lines (same-race and transracial). Yet strangely, for people I know who have children by birth, the stated preference seems to be boys or no preference.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

17 thoughts

  1. This is something I discovered when we adopted our son from Kazakhstan, which shocked a lot of people because as you state people who have children by birth prefer boys or have no preference.
    I also remember reading in article about the preference for girls and the writer stated that another reason girls are more popular is that with couples it’s often the wife who comes to decide on adoption first and then convinces her husband. And since the wife is taking the lead they often decide they want to adopt a girl as women tend to want daughters and men sons.

  2. I think you are right. People think that girls are “easier” in a variety of ways.
    Non-foster parents are almost always surprised when I tell them that in our world, teen girls are considered the most difficult, hardest to place. When I go to trainings and we all share the sort of work we do, it is the family that takes the teen girls that inspires gasps of amazement. (My theory about why teen girls in care are generally more difficult is that more of the difficult boys have ended up in juvenile justice.)

  3. As someone who once wanted an “asian girl” for an international adoption (and has since learned a lot more, thanks in part to your blog) I can say it’s most often not about either of the reasons you’ve said here… all the people I’ve talked to who also “wanted an asian girl” cited the same reason: the belief that girls are not wanted in Asia, specifically China, due to the one child rule (which I realize isn’t in effect anymore) and a desire to ‘save’ them.
    Misguided yes, but not even remotely related to what you’ve said here… I’m sure that isn’t the case with everyone, but literally everyone I’ve talked to who has wanted an asian adoption at one point was all about the “saving” aspect.

  4. I’d never considered the comparable desiribility of an “emasculated Asian man” and a “fearsome man of color”. That is a very interesting idea…I wonder how many adopters really consciously explore the reality of the adult child they will be raising? It seems like we spend so much time on the “front end” of the adoption, that less time is spent imagining the (not so distant) future.

  5. When I first read your hypothesis, I thought how could someone possibly believe that people would think that way, but once I got past that I realized you could have a point.
    I do tend to think most gender preference is based on what a parent feels they can better relate to, but I have seen evidence of more than that.
    Once in a pre-adoption parenting class, an Indian couple preparing to adopt from India described the process there. They stated that several children are lined up and you choose.
    I was revolted by this. And of course I realize that I can never really escape the fact that I did choose. Then again parents of all kinds choose, don’t they?
    Another incident that comes to mind was meeting an older adoptive couple and their grown Korean son. The adoptive mother at some point stated they would have never adopted from China because “they do not know the Lord.” A reference to how Christian Korea has become.
    Again I was revolted.
    As for us, we wandered into what we did mostly based on a perception of integrity on the part of Holt and Korea’s treatment of children given up (foster homes, etc.). I realize this was misguided on our part.
    In the end our choice led to a 2nd unplanned adoption, and while I didn’t really feel the need for redemption, I do feel that we made the best choice we could have.
    We never really talked about gender and were never presented with a choice. I think my wife would have liked to have had a daughter, but not because she might be submissive. My wife is a fearsome and independent woman, and fosters the same in any child.

  6. Here is another hypothesis. A daughter typically marries and take her husband’s name. A boy who marries keeps the family name. Thus, the continuation of the family name may depend on a son, not a daughter, and some families would rather have a complete break in their family name rather than a genetic break in the family name.
    An anecdote related to this hypothesis pertains to families who, for generations, have given their first son a particular name (e.g., John James I, John James II, etc.) I have heard of families whose first son is adopted. The adopted son gets a new name (not John James III). Then they happen to have a bio son after the adopted son, who gets to be John James III.
    I think this is an ugly hypothesis, but I bet there is some truth to it, for some families.

  7. I wanted to clarify that in my example above, I think it’s safe to assume that keeping the adopted son’s original name was *not* the explanation for his not getting the traditional name in the adoptive family; he is renamed to an entirely different name.

  8. Knowing quite a few people and several people who work in the field, I haven’t really seen any evidence of either hypothesis, although idea 1 seems more plausible. Or I should say, the way you phrase it is a bit harsh compared to what AP’s really believe. People view girls as easier to raise, and there’s some truth to which race a parent is willing to adopt, but that’s really as far as it goes.
    Quite frankly, your idea 2 sounds pretty extreme, and I as much as I try to stretch or read into the mindset of anyone I know, I can’t even get close to that.
    I agree with the other comment that it’s more about the perception of need. EVERYONE assumes that other societies devalue girls and women, so once a family decided to adopt, this is a big part of their reasoning. I’.ll admit that I used to assume that all countries had more girls adopted out than boys. That might explain why they have to market – in order to change this misconception.
    The other thing to consider is that 90% of kids adopted from China are girls, and China by far is the largest sender of kids. While things are changing, that probably skews the stats and perceptions quite a bit.
    Similarly, when considering the reasoning behind where people go to adopt, the first thing to consider is which countries are open to adoption and how their process works. The numbers there skew heavily to Asia historically.

  9. “Once in a pre-adoption parenting class, an Indian couple preparing to adopt from India described the process there. They stated that several children are lined up and you choose.”
    Ed, I can speak with certainty in saying that this is not an accurate across-the-board representation of the Indian adoption process. None of the families I know, whether of Indian heritage or not, “selected” their child. I also know that, at least at the children’s home from which we adopted our child, domestic families did not “select” a child either.

  10. CJ’s Daddy, are your friends in the field in public child welfare or international adoptions? Your scenarios seem more plausible to me if you’re talking international, but in my experience – having worked in domestic adoption, and at two public child welfare agencies, the intersection of race and gender IS a big determining factor.
    I think it has a lot more than just “girls are more available,” otherwise in non-China adoptions there would be a more even balance of preference, and there isn’t.
    Why is it that in foster care, the overwhelming population of children who are NOT adopted are boys, aged 10 and over? They are the ones who wait the longest. If it was based on need, they’d be snapped up first.
    I still believe that parents fear the African America male. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

  11. Jae Ran – yes – I’m most closely connected to folks involved in international. And I agree – it should be more than just girls are more available. What I’m getting at is that is the assumption, so that’s they way people go.
    I can’t speak for foster care as much. I do know that my own personal misconception a few years ago would be that older boys are scary and “damaged goods.” I’m betting that’s a common view?

  12. This site has some interesting statistics on international adoptions including gender breakdowns. The adoption rates for boys and girls are almost equal if you exclude China. Ethiopia has about a 20% difference between the boy/girl rate but boys seem to be adopted from many more countries.
    I get the impression that the preference in America is mostly as CJ’s daddy said, foster kids give the impression of more damage and damaged boys are more feared than damaged girls.

  13. Well – one potentially overlooked reason (and my own personal reason) was that as the woman driving the adoption (doing all the paperwork, researching the programs, finding the money etc.) I couldn’t picture myself with a little boy… I wouldn’t have cared had I been referred a boy – and indeed now I have a son (adopted) – but when I was first becoming a parent and picturing my child.. I felt I could relate to a little girl… now I see it as silly, because I relate to my son fine – but there are definitely times I don’t understand him. Then again – I am someone who mostly grew up without a dad (he passed when I was 6) and with a poor relationship with my brother. My sister is my best friend and her daughter is ‘like’ mine – so for me it was natural to want a daughter… my son, however, is like a gift.. of the best kind. A surprise and a lesson in what is truly important. Do love your blog.
    M – Mom to EFP & EBB

  14. I have to agree with the commenters suggesting there is a social/gender justice aspect to the desire for girls in international adoption. I too once thought I would like to adopt little girls from China because they were not valued. Being a woman, I identified with protecting little girls and providing them an opportunity to grow up on an “equal playing field”. I really don’t think it’s possible to consider adopting without having feelings of wanting to help the child being adopted, and the emotions that surface when you consider “resuing” a child from a life in which basic human rights don’t exist are pretty powerful.
    Having done a lot of reading on the subject of adoption and international adoption I think I know better now. In fact, I no longer believe in international adoption, any form of closed adoption and don’t actually feel qualified to adopt a child of a different race. But I still want my little girl.

  15. When we decided to adopt we chose the child that was the hardest to place. Our first choice was an AA boy, aged 3. We already had 2 sons, so I knew a son would be great. When that did not work out and we turned to China, we put either for our preference, but we were told because we already had sons, we would most likely get a girl. I do think that many women want daughters because they want someone to be close to. I am close to my boys, but I really do have a special bond with my daughter. It is different, but I feel she will be the one who I see and talk to most often when she is an adult. I agree with the poster that the Mom’s often want girls. My husband on the other hand would take another son in a heart beat.

  16. I just found this blog entry. It is interesting how strong the preference is for a girl in many adoptive parents. I have read one theory that many times the adoptive mother takes the lead on adoption… and everyone knows women want just daughters.
    Personally I don’t believe in this theory or any of the others. I believe in them all. Families have their unique reasons.
    If you look at the last 12 years of international adoption, excluding China, girls and boys are adopted in equal numbers.
    I exclude China because the numbers are greatly skewed due to the local government policy (one child policy). And I should note that only recently have adoption agencies even offered the option to adopt a boy from China. It used to be impossible. I don’t know why it used to be impossible.
    If you look at the gender of children adopted from US foster care, you see the same equal pattern.
    What is the gender distribution of the children adopted from the public foster care system?
    Male 51%
    Female 49%
    So while families express a preference… reality shows that families adopt girls and boys in equal numbers.
    And about families preferring Asian girls…. Ignoring the gender for the moment.
    Adoptive parents will head for Asian adoptions if they are more concerned about health issues and open to transracial adoption. South Korea is known for having good foster care. Then there is “Half Sky Foundation” (American charity) who works China’s government to created montessori schools in some of China’s orphanages. All these things pull people to Asia.
    One of the medical doctors who specialized in international medicine, talked about this perception once… that children from Asia are healthier then other parts of the world. Maybe it was Dr Aronson?
    Worrying about the child’s health is important because of the US health care system. Some families will be unable to get their adopted child medical insurance if they have pre-existing conditions. Seriously… adopted children are different from birth children in terms of medical insurance. Depending on the plan type, the insurance company doesn’t have to cover them.

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