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Who Wants to Adopt and Who Wants to be Adopted: A Sample of American Families and Sub-Saharan African Orphans

by Christopher Balding, Yan Feng, Armita Atashband

ARTICLE | Health Policy and Planning | Vol.30, December 2015


The debate between pro- and anti-international adoption advocates relies heavily on rhetoric and little on data analysis. To better understand the state of orphans and potential adopters in this debate, we utilize the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to study who adopts internationally and the status of orphaned children in sub-Saharan Africa. According to NSFG data adopters are church going, highly educated, stable families aware of the challenges faced by international adoption, with high rates of infertility and rates of child abuse half the population average. According to the DHS data, orphans in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from significantly higher deprivation, reduced schooling and increased levels of stunting and underweight reported than their cohort. Using this data, we estimate conservatively that that 1 50 000 orphans from our sample of sub-Saharan African countries died from their 5-year birth cohort. Given the large number of families seeking to adopt and the high number of orphan deaths, it seems counterproductive to restrict international adoptions given the significantly lower risks faced by children in adopted families compared with remaining orphaned.