Gender Preference

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gender preference

International and domestic adoption agencies report a very strong preference of adopting parents in the United States to adopt girls, whether they are childless couples or individuals or whether they already have children. This sex preference is seen in adopting parents of all races, socioeconomic statuses and ages.

Many domestic adoption agencies, however, refuse to allow adoptive parents to make a sex preference on their first child. If the parents wish to adopt again at a later date, the agency may sometimes allow the parents to express a sex preference then. If a family already has three boys or three girls and the agency allows them to adopt again, the agency will usually be far more amenable to the family adopting a child of the opposite sex than they now parent. Thus, the manifestation of this preference can be most clearly charted in INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS.

In her 1988 doctoral dissertation, which drew on the Korean-American adoption studies of Dr. Dong Soo Kim, Lois Lydens explained why her longitudinal data included 73% females: "Kim (1976) attributed this gender imbalance to the Korean cultural preference toward male children and the corresponding preference of many American parents to adopt girls."

Cosette Dahlstrom points out in the 1990 Report on Foreign Adoption that the adoption agency Adoption Services of WACAP (Western Association of Concerned Adoptive Parents) receives far more requests from individuals seeking to adopt girls than for people wishing to adopt boys, whether the family wants to adopt a baby or older child. According to Dahlstrom, in one program there was one family wanting to adopt a boy for every five families wanting to adopt a girl. In a program for black families, there were several families seeking to adopt girls and none seeking to adopt boys.

The reverse is generally true when people have biological children: Most want a boy to be their first child. According to the article by Dahlstrom, Dr. Nancy Williamson of the Population Council reviewed preferences of biological parents in 1976 and concluded:

  1. For an only child, 90% of men and 67% of women would choose a boy.
  2. 80% of both parents prefer to have a boy as their first born child.
  3. For a three-child family, most prefer two boys and one girl.

There are many theories on why adoptive parents tend to prefer to adopt girls. One theory is that girls are perceived as easier to raise than boys, and adoptive parents prefer that things go smoothly. They may have an unrealistic image of a cute little girl in a frilly dress, beaming at them and obeying every command.

Males, however, are perceived as more aggressive, getting into fights as boys, and are viewed as far less passive and submissive. Apparently, these are positive traits in a biological child but less positive to those who prefer to adopt a female child.

Female children may also appeal to the protective and altruistic side of people, and it is possible that adoptive parents have a higher level of such feelings than the average person, particularly, in the case of INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS. Male children don't fulfill this protective instinct as effectively as female children, at least in the abstract and the perception of many people planning to adopt.

Some families have stated that the clothes are much more attractive for girls than for boys. Needless to say, such a petty reason for adopting should not be the only reason to want to parent.

Carrying on the family name is an important reason for many biological families wishing to bear male children; however, sometimes the family is opposed to adoption and opposed to an adopted male child with no genetic connectedness to the family carrying on the family name.

Other reasons include the expectation that a girl will stay closer to the family even after marriage and the fact that society permits a more open show of affection toward female children.

Extended family support may be much stronger when the family adopts a girl for many of the reasons described here, and the adopting family may realize, consciously or unconsciously, that an adopted female would be more accepted than an adopted male.

The gender preference of adoptive parents in international adoption may also derive from the expectation of parents who believe females from other parts of the world can blend in with American society easier than a male.

Adoptive parents may think that boys adopted from abroad tend to be shorter and thinner than American boys and would be teased about their appearance by other schoolchildren, especially the boys. Petite and dainty girls, however, are seen in a positive light.

This sexist preference, when it exists, presents a particular problem to international adoption agencies and children abroad, because many people in other lands have an even more pronounced protective and positive preference for females than for male children.

Females are to be protected, while males are expected to fend for themselves. Females are economically more valuable: They can ultimately serve as maids and perform other menial tasks, whereas boys are often seen as a burden on their societies. As a result, at many international agencies male infants and older children are more readily available for adoption, and prospective adoptive parents who want to adopt females face a longer waiting period.

In the case of an independent or an open adoption, a particular family is usually matched to a particular pregnant woman, so it is very seldom that a family is offered a sex preference. However, many obstetricians routinely perform ultrasound examinations, which often detect the sex of a child. Ultrasound examinations are not, however, totally reliable in this regard: many "girls" turn out to be boys at birth.


Christine Adamec, "Adopt a Boy," OURS (July/August 1988) 30-31.

Mary Ann Curran and Sue Eipert, "Wanted: An E.R.A. for Boys," OURS, September/October: 1983.

Cosette Dahlstrom, "Being a Boy Means Hard to Place," Report on Foreign Adoption, 1990 (Boulder, Colo.: International Concerns Committee for Children, 1990).

Lois Lydens, "A Longitudinal Study of Crosscultural Adoption: Identity Development Among Asian Adoptees at Adolescence and Early Adulthood," Ph.D diss., Northwestern University, 1988.

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