The Evolution of Child Adoption in the United States, 1950-2010 —An Economic Analysis of Historical Trends—


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 Annually over 60,000 children in need of care find a permanent home through adoption in the U.S. In this study, I use the framework of family economics to examine the evolution of child adoption in the U.S. from 1950 to the present. Noting substantial heterogeneity within child adoption, I first compile detailed statistics and document historical trends in child adoption by the type of adoption in the U.S. I then investigate demand-side, supply-side, and institutional factors underlying the observed historical patterns. It is shown that, in the U.S., the rate of child adoption per 1,000 births was at its highest around 1970, and that despite a recent resurgence the adoption rate today is still substantially below the historic peak. It is also shown that the composition in the U.S. has changed greatly from domestic infant adoption to the adoption of foreign infants and foster care children since the 1970s, resulting in much greater diversity of adopted children and adoptive parents. I argue that these changes were initially brought about by large and exogenous supply shocks in domestic adoption. But were propelled further by endogenous changes in adoption laws, agency practices, and child welfare policies.


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Bibliographic information

Vol. 63, No. 3, 2012 , pp. 265-285
JEL Classification Codes: D10, J13, N32