Chinese Babies: A Seller's Market, Except in China


China is tightening its requirements for foreigners adopting abandoned baby girls, which initially alarmed me, until I realized that my wife and I probably still qualify. We have one daughter from China and have been thinking of getting another, although the cost is daunting. Citing adoption agency websites, The New York Times claims "adoptions cost about $15,000," but in our experience the total was almost twice that. (You do get a $10,000 tax credit after the adoption is finalized.) But assuming we can come up with the money, it sounds like we meet the new criteria. As of May, according to the Times, adoptive parents will have to be high school graduates who are under 50 and married at least two years (five if either spouse has been divorced). Single parents, who already were disfavored, will be disqualified, as will those with criminal records, body mass indexes of 40 or more (which is quite obese), or serious health problems such as AIDS or cancer. People taking prescription drugs for anxiety or depression are also barred. The income requirement could be met by any middle-class family; the net worth requirement is tougher, but our home equity should do the trick.

Obviously, though, many people who would make fine parents will be disqualified under the new rules, which are intended not only to maximize children's prospects of living in a secure and stable environment but to discourage applications. Last year about 6,500 Chinese children (overwhelmingly girls) were adopted by Americans, and the Times says China recently has seen "an enormous spike in applications by foreigners, which has far exceeded the number of babies." It's not hard to see why. Although expensive, the Chinese adoption process is reliable; the girls are generally healthy, having ended up in orphanages mainly because of their gender, as opposed to handicaps, abuse, or neglect; and the orphanages seem to take good care of them.

The real puzzle is why they're not adopted domestically. Although the Chinese government no doubt welcomes all the money that flows into the country, directly and indirectly, as a result of its adoption industry, it is officially worried about a looming gender imbalance that will mean large numbers of young men with no chance of marrying and settling down—not a welcome prospect for any country, let alone one that values order (to put it kindly) as much as China does. If the government refuses to eliminate its reproductive restrictions (which it does not even acknowledge as part of the gender imbalance problem, blaming it all on an irrational preference for boys), it could at least encourage domestic adoption, rather than shipping off thousands of Chinese girls every year. Try to imagine a similar scenario in the U.S. or another Western country, where babies of the majority ethnic group had to be sent overseas for adoption. Whenever my wife and I went out in public in Changsha and Guangzhou with our daughter Mei, we were surrounded by people oohing and ahing over her and offering parenting tips (or so we gathered from the gestures). It's hard to believe there aren't enough families in China willing to take in these girls, especially if subsidies were provided. Then again, I am grateful for the seeming irrationality of the government's policy, and I suspect so are most of the exported girls when they grow up, having been raised in freer and more prosperous countries. 


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  1. It’s so good to know that there are no American infants awaiting adoption, so we can concentrate on worrying about the Chinese adoption policy.

  2. The problem with Chinese babies is that if you adopt one, you’ll only want to adopt another one in a half an hour.

  3. JF-

    My wife and I are planning an overseas adoption because we do not trust the US legal system. We’ve heard enough horror stories about children being returned to birth-mothers. That isn’t really a risk with overseas adoptions. Once the airplane lands, you’re in the clear.

    By the way, there is also a requirement for prospective parents to be over 30 for adoptions from China.

  4. My buddy has adopted 3 girls from China, his reasons being those explained by PJ.

    I’ve also stayed at the White Swan hotel in Guangzhou (for non-adoption reasons) and it was a bit surreal seeing so many Americans strolling around Chinese babies. At the time I had no clue that that hotel was basically adoption central.

  5. I should have admitted that as an adult adoptee I am irrationally biased on this issue. I do understand the perfectly rational reasons for adopting overseas, but at the same time it bothers me.

  6. which initially alarmed me, until I realized that my wife and I probably still qualify.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but you realize how self-centered this reads?

  7. I think we all know the real reason why international adoptions are preferable. Chinese babies are GOD DAMN cute!!!

    They are like the dachshunds of the baby world. You just can’t beat em 🙂

  8. But humans are self centered. It’s a function of our biological nature.

  9. jf:

    Our main reservation about domestic adoption is entanglement with the U.S. legal system and the prolonged uncertainty and anxiety it entails, especially because of the risk P.J. mentioned. We adopted our older daughter domestically, and even though the situation was supposed to be straightforward and completely amicable, it took two years before everything was final, the legal bills were much higher than we anticipated, and there was a constant background threat that the government could step in at any moment and take our daughter away. (See my 1999 Reason story for details.) Our experience with China was quite different. When it comes to adoption, sad to say, it is easier dealing with China’s totalitarian government than with the American court system and bureaucracy.

  10. Are you adopting children for your own selfish gratification or for the benefit of the kid? I think more people need to ask themselves this question.

  11. Jacob,

    I really do understand how difficult it has become to adopt in the U.S.

    I just can also empathize with some kid sitting in an orphanage waiting to be adopted who night not think that the new roadblocks to adopting from China quite compare with her problems. This isn’t meant to be an insult toward you, and I’m sure you’ll give another little girl a wonderful home.

  12. jf:

    As a fellow adoptee (somehow “adult adoptee” sounds odd to me) and the adoptive father of a young girl from Russia, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Aside from the points already made, our experience researching the possibility of adopting an American child led to the conclusion that the odds were prohibitively against our being able to adopt a child except a “special needs” child, which we considered but decided against.

    In any case, place of birth seems to me a largely irrelevant consideration. What difference, ultimately, if a child needing a home comes from across the street or across the world?

    I must also say that the Russian authorities and the U.S. Embassy staff were remarkably efficient and cooperative throughout the entire process.

  13. I think most people who have gone through the adoption process for an infant, guided by a reasonable agent, come to realize that it is a selfish act, and that this needs to be acknowledged for the benefit of the child. It’s not doing the kid any favors to raise her in an environment where you’re the angel swooping in to save her from her life. Now, the issue gets a little more muddy, I think, when you get into older orphans who have some understanding of the situation and who are going to grow up with memories of a life before adoption.
    This relates to jf’s comment also. Because, while his/her concern is reasonable, it really isn’t fair to hoist it on adoptive parents. We aren’t adopting foreign children to save the world – we are adopting them to build a family. So, we should be no more responsible for U.S. kids without families than other parents are who have their kids the old-fashioned way.

  14. Anthony, the alternative is that they grow up in an orphanage in a totalitarian country. No matter how selfish Jacob’s reasons, it ends up win-win. Furthermore, I don’t know how much time you’ve spent around children, but I can’t think of any selfish reasons to get one. Lets see… I spend less of my money on me, less of my time on me, my spouse spends less of her time and money on me. What a rip. Parenthood is just not conducive to selfishness.

  15. Maurkov…that depends on whether you go with the common definition of the word selfish or the Randian idea. In Rand’s world, you would ONLY adopt for selfish reasons. But that’s good.

  16. Roger at Nobody’s Business has adopted a couple of girls from China. He may be a good resource.

    Also related, I learned, admittedly from Brangelina, that adopting from Ethiopia is also an option. Considering what is occurring there now, it may be the more humanitarian thing to do than adopting from China.

  17. I’d rather have a parrot.

  18. Switch the words ONLY and adopt around…it seems that utilizing the preview button is simply far too complicated for me.

  19. That little girl in the picture is damn cute. About $30K, eh? Thanks for planting the seed in my head.

  20. It also goes without saying that this is all one step towards the outsourcing of, well, everything (which I strongly support).

    I had my daughter the ole fashion way and I do love her, but I’m certain that I would love her every bit as much if I had gotten her from China. Also, when compared to the frustration, expense and suffering that my marriage entailed, $30k seems like a damn good deal.

  21. I don’t know anything about adoption, foreign or domestic, but I do know that the ideological purity of the blog is threatened. Government subsidies spoken of as if they were a positive incentive? I’m shocked! Shocked, I say!

  22. The real puzzle is why they’re not adopted domestically. Although the Chinese government no doubt welcomes all the money that flows into the country, directly and indirectly, as a result of its adoption industry, it is officially worried about a looming gender imbalance …

    Probably because the relative numbers adopted internationally just aren’t that big compared to China’s over all population. About 7,000 to the US in 2004, out of millions of children born. And rather than paying tens thousands of dollars to raise the child or provide funds to Chinese to do so, they get paid tens of thousands by Americans.

    It’s also good PR for China, showing a humanitarian side of a government that’s often criticized for human rights violations.

  23. While I sympathize with JF’s comments, I think it’s also fair to point out that without foreign adoptive parents, the lives of those girls would be no better than those of unadopted children in the US, and quite possibly worse.
    A friend of mine, call him John, and his wife have adopted two girls from China. They are unable to have their own children; John survived a nasty battle with testicular cancer. John is the Chief of our Fire Department and a paramedic. His wife is a teacher. Both are almost absurdly devoted to their little girls. I truly can not imagine a better set of parents, and have no doubt whatsoever that their adoption of those girls was a very good thing. I’m not religious, but if I were, I’d say they are doing God’s work. It would be grotesquely unfair to sneer at the family they’ve created because they didn’t buy American, so to speak.

  24. Parenthood is just not conducive to selfishness.


    “I don’t want to die alone.”

    “I want someone who will take care of me in my old age.”

    “I can live vicariously through my kids, realizing my failed dreams of being a great athlete/musician/whatever.”

    “My spouse won’t leave me if we have a kid.”

    “My self-esteem relies on having someone love me unconditionally.”

    There are plenty of selfish reasons to have a kid. They just don’t tend to revolve around money.

  25. Yes, Jacob’s little girl is damned cute. So was my daughter at two and three. Now she’s five. She’s still damn cute – very pretty, to tell the unbiased truth – but she never. ever. ever. stops talking. If she’s conscious, she’s talking and lately we’ve heard her talking in her sleep. I’m not exactly laconic myself, but even the husband admits our child can outtalk me. We’re both kind of frightened.

    I can’t imagine two small girls in the house at the same time.

  26. stubby,

    …she never. ever. ever. stops talking. If she’s conscious, she’s talking and lately we’ve heard her talking in her sleep.

    I’m dying over here! You know, rolling around, laughing.
    Seriously, though, you sound rather frazzled. Good luck with the little motormouth.

  27. Son of a!: Beat me to it.

  28. Anthony every single reason to have a child (adopted or not) is selfish.

    I want kids.”
    I want someone to take care of and nuture.”
    I want someone to continue the family tradition.”
    I want grandkids.”

    Once the baby is born, of course there are plenty of reasons to raise it well that aren’t selfish.

  29. Don’t forget

    ” I want to more attention drawn towards myself” (like Paris Hilton and her little handbag dogs)

  30. The BMI requirements are funny. I’m picturing a Party bureaucrat with a NO FAT CHIX t-shirt.

  31. “I don’t want to die alone.”
    Unless you’re talking about a murder/suicide thing, that will be up to the kid. The worse parent you are, the less likely this is to work.

    “I want someone who will take care of me in my old age.”
    You’re better off putting 30k into mutual funds.

    “I can live vicariously through my kids, realizing my failed dreams of being a great athlete/musician/whatever.”
    You may have a point with this one, but if your adoptee didn’t win the genetic lottery, then what? Rinse, repeat?

    “My spouse won’t leave me if we have a kid.”
    Just be ready for the spouse leaving with the kid.

    “My self-esteem relies on having someone love me unconditionally.”
    Now wait, they become teenagers eventually.

    There are plenty of selfish reasons to have a kid. They just don’t tend to revolve around money. or free time.

    The selfish angle is a lot more persuasive when you’re talking about conceiving a child. For adoption, you’d have to be a fantastically awful parent to be worse than the alternative.

  32. Those considering adopting from China might want to look at Vietnam. A friend adopted a little girl four years ago and my life hasn’t been the same. And I’m not even the parent! She is so bright and cheerful and, yes, incredibly cute! At the time of adoption China had once again changed the rules and there was great uncertainty. After spending a bunch of time and resources, our friend turned to Vietnam and had no problem. It is true, most Asian children up for adoption are healthy and not special needs. Adopting from Russia is much riskier. Sure, it seems very selfish to only want a “normal” child, but special needs is not for everyone. Isn’t it better to realise this? Being forced by fate to have to deal with a situation one isn’t able to handle is incredibly difficult for the child and the adults. They do deserve our help!
    Jacob, good luck to you, have a wonderful time with the kids!

  33. Mr. Sullum ties the male-female imbalance to the restrictive policy, but removing it will still most likely result in more boys. If the State is going to meddle, they should give tax credits to those who have girls over boys until it is back in balance.

  34. Are you adopting children for your own selfish gratification or for the benefit of the kid? I think more people need to ask themselves this question.

    I don’t think anyone does anything, but to satitisfy some “selfish” desire, whatever that means.

    – R

  35. As to why the Chinese don’t adopt more of their own kids, it’s probably a combination of limited financial resources, the pro-son mentality that creates so many abandoned girls in the first place, and a cultural aversion to adoption.

    My wife is Chinese and when we were living in Beijing a few years ago one of her cousins and her husband found they were unable to conceive. They tried several fertility treatments, to no avail. Finally, the decided they wanted to adopt, a plan we heartily encouraged. However, the woman’s mother (my wife’s aunt), was vociferously opposed to the idea of adopting and made such a fuss about it that the idea was quietly dropped. We heard similar stories of families opposing adoption, and I still don’t have it figured out. I think it’s mostly a gut-level aversion to bringing in and raising a person who is not really of your bloodline. The confucian emphasis on ancestry and lineage creates a psychocultural barrier to devoting family resources to raising someone else’s kid.

    Hopefully, more Chinese will adopt as the country grows wealthier and as technology enables support groups to form. For instance, it might have been helpful if my wife’s cousin had been able to find a Chinese Web group or discussion thread devoted to working out the kind of family pressures she had to deal with.

  36. I haven’t seen a study in humans, but in general gender imbalances tend to even themselve out after enough time. When one gender is under repressented, its members get to pick the best spouses. This makes being in the under repressented gender more desireable. Of course, this automatic feedback works on the evolutionary time scale. I’m not sure what the next 50 years hold.

  37. I must say, I can’t understand this fascination with foreign adoptions. There are so many children here in our own country that need a good, loving home. I can understand the concerns regarding the legal system and costs involved, but that is only if you’re looking for a white, blond-hair, blue-eyed infant. My wife is an adoption specialist with a non-profit private agency in Michigan and her case-load is always through the roof. She is constantly trying to recruit parents to adopt the kids in her files. There are no legal problems adopting these kids. They are wards of the State whose biological parents have had their rights terminated. They are also mostly black.

    We have adopted three of these unwanted children and we have absolutely no fear of ever losing them to their bio. parents. And it didn’t cost us a thing. The State paid all fees. These kids are considered “special needs” and while sometimes that means they have emotional or behavioral problems, often it just means they’ve been in the system too long (foster parents tend to lie about problems to get a higher rate).

    When my wife and I decided we wanted kids and couldn’t have our own, we decided to adopt any kid of any race and any background. . . as long as they were American. We are white and live in a predominantly white community, but our black children have fit in just fine and are a joy to come home to every day.

    It isn’t too widely known, but the U.S. also is in the foreign adoption business. We export our black kids to places like Canada, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. Doesn’t anyone else see a problem with that?

  38. On the parenthood-is-selfish subject:

    My wife and I are trying for a child. We talked about why we wanted children, and realized it’s this:

    We’re both interesting people. We think there should be more interesting people in the world, generally, and in our lives, specifically. We’re pretty sure any child of ours will be interesting like we are.

    Neither one of us is really excited by the prospect of changing diapers, but we’re both really excited by the prospect of introducing someone new to our favorite books, movies, places, foods, etc.

  39. Im so upset bout the new rules. I think single parents are just as good as people that are together. What if you never meet a soul mate and you want to adopt…that just makes me mad!

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