China Tightens Restrictions on International Adoption—Will Demand for African-American Children Increase?

Thank you for the introduction and the opportunity to guest blog this month. I look forward to everyone’s comments.

The Chinese government’s new restrictions on international adoptions went into effect earlier this week. The new rules require that all adoptive parents be married at least two years (to a person of the opposite sex), that they have at least a high school education, and that their family assets total at least $80,000. Most Americans seeking to adopt internationally have no objection to the educational and financial requirements, possibly because most Americans adopting from China are upper middle class. However, there has been a lot of discussion on the adoption blogs about China’s new age and health requirements. According to the U.S. Department of State, China now requires that all foreigners seeking to adopt be 50 years of age or younger. They also must be free of certain medical conditions such as “mental disorders requiring medication for more than two years, including depression, mania, or anxiety neurosis” or a “Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more.” Persons with severe facial deformities, limb paralysis or dysfunction, or blindness (even if only in one eye) are also disqualified.

Many sending countries place even greater restrictions on foreigners seeking to adopt. In addition, Russia has recently stopped accepting applications from American adoption agencies as it attempts once again to curb rampant corruption in its adoption system. Guatemala has similarly announced that it will impose greater restrictions on international adoptions as it attempts to comply with Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. As a result, many Americans must come to terms with the reality that their odds of creating or expanding their families through international adoption anytime soon might be reduced.


A few days ago I got a call from a journalist asking what effect, if any, China’s new restrictions will have on white Americans’ adoptions of African-American children. One might expect that China’s new policies would lead some white Americans who would otherwise have adopted from China to adopt an African-American child. After all, these are families who had already decided to adopt a child of a different race. However, I am not hopeful. As much as I would like to believe that China’s restrictions will lead many more white Americans to seek African-American children, not only from foster care, but from private agencies that place primarily healthy infants who were relinquished voluntarily, I am not sure China’s restrictions will lead to increased demand for African-American children.

First, some families chose to adopt internationally because they wish to avoid the risk that the birth mother or father will later change their minds and attempt to reclaim the child. Although this rarely happens, understandably, some adoptive parents prefer to adopt from abroad where this particular risk might be even lower although the risks of other types of disruptions might be higher. Second, some adoptive parents want to avoid open adoptions which are increasingly common in the U.S. and require the adoptive parents to keep in contact (albeit minimal contact in many cases) with the birth parents.

But let me suggest a third reason—race. Is it possible that some white Americans disqualified from adopting from China might not seek to adopt an African-American child precisely because he is Black? The literature on unconscious racial bias shows that cognitive biases against African-Americans influence employers’ evaluations of applicants’ resumes based on whether they have a “white” name or a “Black” name. Unconscious racial biases also affect the amount of bail set, and even the rate at which NBA referees call fouls against African-American players. Studies have shown that Americans marrying interracially find African-Americans to be the least desirable marriage partners, even when the study participants honestly believed that they had no racial biases. Further, demand for African-American children is significantly lower than demand for children of other races. Indeed, many adoption agencies subsidize adoptions of African-American infants because too few families are interested in adopting these children. The standard fee for adoptions of “Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian-American, or Native-American infants, or any combination thereof” does not apply to adoptions of African-American infants which are discounted as much as 50%. Thus, I ask: Is it possible that unconscious biases against African-American children will keep some white families from providing a child with his “forever family?”

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8 Responses

  1. Stuart Buck says:

    Not just unconscious bias: Conscious bias as well.

    Despite my own experience, however, I’m not prepared to say that all such bias is irrational. Some is, of course, but I don’t know that it’s irrational to prefer to have children that look more like oneself. In addition, interracial adoption is often disliked (and sometimes rather intensely) by portions of the black community, and I can’t really blame those whites who might feel a bit wary of stepping into a potential minefield, or who might be convinced by the argument that white parents won’t be as able to prepare a black child for dealing with society’s racism.

  2. Solangel Maldonado says:

    Stuart,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Although some African-Americans oppose transracial adoptions, 70% actually support it. I think we often only hear from those who oppose it. Keep in mind that many Latinos and Native Americans oppose transracial/transcultural adoption of Latino and Native American children. Yet, there is no shortage of white families wanting to adopt those children. Adoption agencies don’t have to subsidize those adoptions because the demand exceeds supply.

    Some white families believe that they lack the ability to raise an African-American child with a healthy racial identity. That is definitely a valid concern but why do these families believe they are any more competent to raise a Chinese, Vietnamese, or Guatemalan child, for example? Is it because we believe that racism against non-Black minorities is less virulent than that against African-Americans?

  3. Stuart Buck says:

    Sure, I think that anti-black racism is far more entrenched in American society than anti-anything-else. Not to diminish racism directed at other groups, of course, but no other group was systematically enslaved and segregated for several hundred years.

    Another factor here is a sort of path dependence that may have sprung up. Chinese adoption seems relatively common, and these days, people aren’t surprised to see a white family with a Chinese child. But white adoption of blacks seems relatively rare, which means that people are more surprised to see it, which in turn means that people who are considering adoption might be dissuaded by the fact that they’ll draw stares or quizzical looks everywhere they go.

  4. Bill says:

    I do not mean to dismiss claims that bias against African Americans is different than that against Asian Americans or Native Americans.

    But I think the availability heuristic comes into play. In America, you see many middle and upper-middle class families that have raised successful East Asian adopted daughters (usually Korean) who are now in their 30s or even early 40s. It is not much of a jump for a white family to think they can successfully raise an adopted daughter from China — they “see” such successes in their milieu.

    It may be that role models of “white family successfully raising African American daughter/son” are not as cognitively available.

    Of course, this can become a chicken-and-egg problem . . .

    Also interestingly, the tougher adoption requirements in Russia and China are in part response to domestic opposition to foreign adoptions. In China, the tougher rules strengthen the government’s claim against its critics that it is giving these girls something “better.”

  5. Joske Vermeulen says:

    Sorry if this has been discussed before, and also for being a bit off-topic, but why do you differentiate between ‘Black’ and ‘white’ (in capitalization, I mean)?

  6. Solangel Maldonado says:

    Joske,

    Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and at Columbia Law School, best explains why some of us capitalize “Black” but not “white.” She writes:

    “I capitalize ‘Black’ because ‘Blacks,’ like Asians, Latinos, and other ‘minorities,’ constitute a specific cultural group and, as such, require denotation as a proper noun. . . By the same token, I do not capitalize ‘white’ which is not a proper noun, since whites do not constitute a specific cultural group.”

    Kimberle Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, 43 STAN. L. REV. 1241, 1244 n.6 (1991).

    Obviously not everyone agrees with some scholars’ capitalization of Black but not white. Some writers capitalize both while others capitalize neither.

  7. anonymous says:

    A 70% approval rating (see author’s 5/5 10:30 AM comment) might be great for elected officials, but it’s unpersuasive in this context — especially if the 30% who oppose it do so vehemently. It depends, obviously, on where and in what circumstances the child will be raised, but the prospect of having nearly a third of members of the child’s race “oppose” the circumstances in which the child is being brought up is potentially catastrophic and certainly enough to frighten away all but the most strong-willed adoptive families. I’m afraid that statistic doesn’t support the inference your question attempts to create that it’s the “unconscious bias” of adoptive families that leads them to other races and ethnicities, unless you can show relevant quantitative and qualitative comparative polling data. Race matters, obviously, but it’s all over this issue and doesn’t run in one direction.

  8. JUDI says:

    Personally we need to stop aborting our own American babies, and allow Americans to adopt the babies. I feel people should adopt from their own

    ethnic group. I am happy to see that the foreign countries have clamped down, since some babies have lived a horror life and even died in some of these crazy adoptive homes. Personally, I would be a foster Mom to young adults trying to be independent. At 18, they are dropped and have not a clue on being self supporting. America first.