Where have all the Children Gone?

Where have all the Children Gone?

American citizens adopted 13,407 fewer international children in 2011 than they did in 2004 – a 60% decline from that peak year. The biggest decrease has come from the adoption of girls – the ratio of boys to girls has gone from 0.54 to 0.79 – and children under the age of one who now represent less than 15% of all adoptions.

Data that is made publically available on the Department of Homeland Security website paints an interesting picture of how the adoption of children to the United States has changed over a very short period of time. [see chart at bottom of page]

Until the middle of the last decade international adoptions appeared to be increasing steadily year over year, with the characteristics of the children in terms of gender and age being fairly constant. After that point adoptions have fallen precipitously along with big changes in the relative adoption rates of boys and younger children.

China is by far the biggest supplier of children for international adoption, but changes in Chinese adoption policies alone cannot explain the decline in adoptions – although they probably can explain most of the change in gender composition since the adoption of boys from that country actually doubled over the same period.

Interestingly, the Canadian adoption rate of foreign children is completely unchanged over the same period despite adopting foreign children at a much higher rate than the US.

It has to be the case that a change in adoption rates for the United States this significant, during a period of global economic turmoil, has to have an economic story behind it.

At the individual level domestic parents may have changed their demand for international children in light of the current economic climate, or their predictions about the economic climate in the future, or foreign and/or domestic parents may have changed their supply of children for similar reasons.

At the national level domestic governments may have worked to stem the movement of foreign children into the country or adopted other policies that increased the adoption rates of domestic children, or foreign governments have worked to stem the movement of children out of their county or adopted other policies that reduced the supply of unparented children.

Usually when I post on a topic like this I can tell you what the economic story is because economic researchers have published papers on the topic that use the data available to tell that story. But as of right now, I can’t seem to find anyone who is looking for economic evidence to explain this remarkable change in trend.

So, I don’t have the story but rather write to encourage the telling of it. Behind these statistics lie stories of grief and sorrow, both on the part of parents who are struggling to bring their children home and on the part of children who are growing up in overflowing orphanages. I am looking forward to finding out why that has been the case.


Very warm thanks to the two wonderful women whose patience in waiting for their children inspired this post.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Is it ethical to pay people to get vaccinated?

It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images
Coronavirus

A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.

Keep reading Show less

Every 27.5 million years, the Earth’s heart beats catastrophically

Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.

Credit: desertsolitaire/Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
  • Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
  • Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Galactic wind from early universe detected

Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.

Quantcast