Boy or Girl? Talking about the adoptive parent preference for girls

Welcome to my 100th post! This is chapter seven in the Mine In China book, an updated version of this previous controversial blog post. You might also want to read Why You Should Adopt A Boy.

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When you and your spouse started discussing adoption, I’ll bet there is one thing you agreed on right away– that a little girl would be perfect for your family. Wondering how I know? Because 90% of adoptive families feel the same way. Although everyone has their own personal reason for choosing to adopt a girl, they are usually surprised to hear that everyone else wants to adopt a girl, too. Adoptive parents overwhelming prefer girls to boys to the extent that 75% of the children in China waiting to be matched with a family are boys. One major agency shared that for every forty dossiers they have logged in for families wanting to adopt a girl they will have only one family open to a boy. That’s a huge imbalance! Another agency shared that when they post a girl to their photo listing they will receive an average of twenty-five inquiries about her while most boys on their photo listing receive zero to one inquiries. It takes a boy three times as long to find a family as it does a girl. For this reason, there is a saying among advocates and agency personnel that “boys wait for families while families wait for girls.”

Maybe you are thinking “But everyone thinks that girls are abandoned in China, so that’s probably why people who adopt from China are thinking girl.” Nope. This preference holds true whether you are talking domestic infant adoption, adoption from foster care, or adopting internationally from any country in the world. A few countries have tried to counter the girl preference problem by setting criteria for requesting a girl. If you are a European parent, you aren’t allowed to choose the gender of the child you adopt. But for the most part, if you are an American couple who wants to adopt, you can choose to say that you will only adopt a girl, and most will do so.

Why is it that adoptive families prefer girls? I have been active on adoption groups and reading blogs for quite a while now, and the one theme that really keeps popping up is that women really want to have a daughter. Because women are usually the one in the couple who suggests adding to the family, they will often drive the adoption discussion. Don’t men want sons? Well, maybe, but perhaps they feel some inward reluctance to have a son who isn’t genetically related pass on the family name. Or it is also possible that men feel if they adopt a girl they get to take a pass on more of the responsibilities. One woman shared that her husband felt that by adopting a girl he wouldn’t have to worry about getting a call that his teenage son was in jail, until a neighbor pointed out that a daughter might tell him that she’s pregnant! And of course, if you are adopting as a single mom, you probably feel better equipped to parent a girl than a boy.

Perhaps the two most common reasons given are that a woman has one or more boys but has always wanted a daughter, or has a single daughter who really wants a sister. These are perfectly reasonable desires, and adoption can certainly be a way to fulfill those desires while giving a family to a girl who doesn’t have one, as long as you keep in mind that you will be adopting a girl who is a unique individual and may or may not meet your expectations. After all, sometimes sisters are best friends and sometimes they are worst enemies. Not all daughters have any interest in wearing skirts accessorized with bows as large as their head and taking ballet lessons. These sorts of family dynamic issues are faced by all families, biological or adoptive.

I’m not at all surprised when women who have two or three boys decide to pursue adoption to have a daughter. What surprises me is how persistently people will choose a girl regardless of their family composition. While each family will make an individual decision as to which gender is the best fit for their family, in the end most of them will decide on a girl. Interestingly, people give the same justifications over and over. Families with a single daughter will say “She needs a sister” while families with a single boy will say “We want to have a daughter.” A family with two boys will say “We really want a daughter while a family with two girls will say “We always dreamed of adopting a girl.” Families with three girls often say “We only have three bedrooms, so we have to adopt a girl” while families with three boys and three bedrooms say “We really want a daughter.” When you hear from families with four or more of the same gender, you hear “We wouldn’t know what to do with a boy if we had one” from families with all girls while once again it’s “We really want a daughter” from families with all boys. I have never heard anyone say “We really want a son” or “He needs a brother.” It’s kind of like a flow chart which gives every possible family composition but they all lead to the girl box in the end.

It really makes me scratch my head. Why are bedrooms and hand-me-downs an issue if you have girls at home but not boys? Why is it so important for a girl to have a sister but not a boy to have a brother? Why do families with several girls say that they wouldn’t know what to do with a boy, while families with several boys don’t seem to worry about the learning curve for a girl? It’s easier for me to think that the reason no one dreamed of adopting a little boy from China, or adopts because they want a son, is because the general perception is that there are far more girls available for adoption than boys. When you see all the adoptive families with girls, you assume that’s what is available and maybe more families with only daughters would adopt a boy if they knew that boys need families too.

girlMany people share that a major motivation for them to adopt was an awareness of the discrimination against women in other countries. People who are adopting now grew up hearing news stories about China’s one child policy and the widespread abandonment of unwanted girls. They feel they can make a difference in one girl’s life by adopting one of those “unwanted” baby girls and letting her know that she is wanted and loved. I’ve heard women say “I’ve known I wanted to adopt a little girl from China since I was six (or nine or eleven) years old!” They feel that girls raised in China will face discrimination and a life of hardship if they are not adopted. This is usually based on an outdated view of attitudes in China. In fact, an agency representative shared that one of their partnership orphanages has a waiting list of over two hundred Chinese couples who want to adopt a healthy baby girl.

While I can understand this point of view, I am uncomfortable with how much adoptive parents discriminate against boys in their desire to make up for the discrimination against girls. In countries where there is a preference for boys, it is unlikely that a boy raised in an orphanage will have any advantages in life. For many of these boys, their lack of education and family connections will cause them to always struggle. They very well may not be able to have their own family because they cannot hope to be well off or well-connected enough to attract a wife. Any orphan is at a disadvantage and all of them need homes.



Boys are perceived as more violent, more impulsive, not as good in school, and more likely to have autism. Perhaps these fears keep people away from boys while the thought that girls would be more compliant (a loud ha ha from those of us who have girls) makes a girl sound safer. I heard one adoptive parent say that they were afraid a boy would be more likely to sexually abuse one of their biological children, even though they wanted to adopt a child under the age of two! Girls can also act out sexually if they have been abused, behave violently, not perform as well in school–really any of those negative stereotypes. I understand that adoption can be scary because of the unknowns, but choosing a girl over a boy will not rule out any of the possible negative outcomes. The idea that girls are somehow easier than boys is just wrong. There is no easy way out in parenting!

Okay, so the gender preference begins to become understandable. But then I become confused yet again when you start to bring in the religious angle. While the media has recently discovered the Christian adoption movement and several controversial articles have been written on the subject, it is impossible to deny that many people cite religious reasons for adopting. Over and over again people say that they felt called to adoption in light of James 1:27, which reads “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” One might assume that those adopting out of religious motivation would be less biased against adopting a boy. To the contrary, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say “God called us to adopt a little girl” I’d have enough money to fund another adoption!

Now, I should say upfront that in my religious tradition, we talk a lot about discernment, but it is less common than in the evangelical churches to discern a clear specific message from God. My husband and I felt that God was calling us to adopt, but we did not get a lightning bolt message regarding race, age, or gender. I do believe that God calls people to specific tasks, but when I look at the sheer number of people called to adopt a little girl, I have to wonder why God isn’t calling more people to adopt boys or older children or children with big special needs? The cynical side of me thinks that some of these people are reading their own desires into God’s message because it is hard for me to understand why God would call families with three, four or five girls to wait in line for months to adopt a girl when there are so many boys waiting for families. When Jesus said to welcome the children in His name, I’m sure that included boys, who are “the least of these” in the world of adoption.

babyroomBut in charity, I remind myself that it is always easy to obey God’s call when it aligns with your desires. Perhaps the families being called to adopt boys, older children, and children with big special needs are trying to ignore their calling. I know that when we first considered adoption, a girl is exactly what sprang to mind for us. And with three boys and a lone daughter, who could blame us? But when we learned how long the boys wait for families, it tugged at our hearts because we love our boys so much. Yes, we wanted a daughter, but we already have one. Was having another really so important? After a lot of prayer and discussion (both between ourselves and our children), and yet more discernment, we decided that we couldn’t choose when we had biological children, so why should it matter when you adopt? Adoption, for us, was about welcoming a child into our family, not about trying to create our personal idea of the perfect family.

I don’t expect all families to make the same decision as us, or to come to the same conclusions. I’m not trying to berate those who adopted or hope to adopt a girl, nor am I trying to make you feel bad. This is not about asking people to justify their choice or to choose a boy out of guilt. It’s about asking people to take a moment to consider their reasons for marking only the girl box. I hope that families, and especially women, who are usually the driving force behind the adoption decision, will take a good look at their motivations. Maybe a few more people will realize that they have a place in their homes and hearts for a boy after all. Perhaps after consideration more people will be open to either gender. Why limit yourself? Check both boxes and see what referral you receive. If you are adopting because you hear God’s call, then try leaving that opening to see if he is using this tug on your heart to lead you to your son. Consider the CHILD, not the gender. You can always decline a referral, so you’ve really got nothing to lose. If you take a chance, you might realize all of the fun that a boy can bring to your life!

Additional Resources

Snips & Snails v. Sugar & Spice: Gender Preferences in Adoption

New York Times: Black babies, boys less likely to be adopted

Love Without Boundaries: The adoption of boys

Love Without Boundaries: What about the boys?

Personal experience- A family with two boys writes about deciding to be open to either gender

Personal experience- A family with three girls writes about deciding to be open to either gender

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