The story behind the numbers, adoption statistics 1962-2013

Earlier this year, the US Department of State published its annual statistics on inter-country adoption. Again a significant decline in the number of children adopted from abroad could be noted. The year 2012 had already been a low-water mark with 8668 inter-country adoptions. In 2013, the number went down even further, to 7094.

The decline in inter-country adoption is not equally distributed, as can be seen in the following table. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria have seen sharp increases in the number of adoptions, while traditional adoption countries such as South Korea and The Russian Federation have seen adoption drop to unprecedented low levels. The number of adoptions from South Korea haven't been this low since 1955.

Country Number of adoptions in 2013 Average Number of adoptions between 2000-2013 Relative change
Democratic Republic of the Congo 313 39.08 700.85%
Uganda 276 62.92 338.68%
Ghana 170 60.92 179.07%
Latvia 89 37.08 140.00%
Nigeria 183 92.92 96.95%
Honduras 19 10.00 90.00%
Nicaragua 37 19.92 85.77%
Guyana 50 28.58 74.93%
Hungary 23 13.75 67.27%
Sierra Leone 33 21.17 55.91%
Jamaica 79 55.00 43.64%
Pakistan 47 33.58 39.95%
Bulgaria 159 118.00 34.75%
Bangladesh 14 10.50 33.33%
Morocco 24 18.83 27.43%
Haiti 388 324.00 19.75%
Hong Kong 17 18.17 -6.42%
Ethiopia 993 1087.50 -8.69%
Samoa 9 10.17 -11.48%
Dominican Repubic 13 15.17 -14.29%
Peru 21 28.42 -26.10%
Phillipines 178 244.92 -27.32%
Cameroon 7 10.33 -32.26%
Poland 49 82.83 -40.85%
Japan 22 37.42 -41.20%
Ukraine 438 745.75 -41.27%
Taiwan 94 169.33 -44.49%
El Salvador 7 12.67 -44.74%
Brazil 23 42.17 -45.45%
Colombia 159 294.25 -45.96%
Thailand 36 69.00 -47.83%
Albania 6 11.67 -48.57%
Lithuania 11 22.67 -51.47%
Armenia 12 27.42 -56.23%
China 2306 5435.08 -57.57%
Ecuador 11 26.75 -58.88%
India 119 388.50 -69.37%
Mexico 21 75.75 -72.28%
Kenya 4 21.50 -81.40%
Azerbaijan 2 13.50 -85.19%
Liberia 12 121.50 -90.12%
South Korea 138 1436.50 -90.39%
Russian Federation 250 3457.50 -92.77%
Guatemala 23 2395.83 -99.04%
Nepal 0 38.50 -100.00%
Moldova 0 28.17 -100.00%
Rwanda 0 14.17 -100.00%

Much has been written about the decline of inter-country adoption over the last couple of years. Trade association like the National Council for Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children's Services decry the decline, while children's rights organizations generally welcome the trend.

Many articles about the decline of inter-country adoption, show graphs like the one below (often cutting off the years before 2004 for dramatic effect), to demonstrate the decline in inter-country adoption

There are however other ways to look at the data. An argument can be made that countries sending more than 500 children per year for inter-country adoption can be viewed as anomalous. If we omit those countries from the statistics we get the following graph.

When omitting large sending countries from the statistics, the trend goes away. and what is left are annual fluctuations within a relatively narrow bandwidth.

The numbers of children entering the United States through inter-country adoption is mostly determined by only a handful of sending countries and the special circumstances in those countries in a particular period.

Let's therefore look at the numbers of inter-country adoptions since 1962 and find out what the story is behind the numbers.

Little concrete data is available about inter-country adoption before 1962. There was no official policy in place, making inter-country adoption an ad hoc phenomenon. Thousands of German and Greece children were adopted in America between the end of the Second World War and 1962, but all of them came to the US by means of emergency legislation, not as part of an official adoption policy.

Since 1962, the United States has had an official inter-country adoption policy, and official data has been made available about the number of children entering the country due to inter-country adoption.

Between 1962 and 1976 inter-country adoption grew at a steady pace, with a minor dip in 1968 due to the decline in adoptions from Germany, however most of the growth in that period can be attributed to only one country: South Korea.

In 1962, the number of adoptions from South Korea was 370, down from an initial high point of 922 in 1958. This down-turn in adoptions from South Korea was short lived and throughout the 1960s until 1976, adoption from Korea grew exponentially.

The various sources differ on the exact number of children adopted from Korea although they agree on an approximate number of four thousand in 1976, dropping to a level around two and a half thousand from 1979 until 1981.

More significant than the absolute number of adoptions from Korea is its relative contribution to the total number of adoptions. The following chart shows that development from 1963 until 1987.

Adoption from South Korea quickly declined from its high watermark of more than six thousand in 1986 to little over eighteen hundred in 1991, a level that was sustained until 2004, after which the final decline set in.

The story of inter-country adoption from South Korea is remarkable. Apart from China, no other country has sent as many children to the US for inter-country adoption as South Korea, yet the country didn't go through some humanitarian crisis when adoption boomed.It boomed because the infrastructure for inter-country adoption existed and there was initially very little resistance against the growing number of children sent abroad.

In that respect, inter-country adoption from South Korea is mostly alike the domestic adoption boom within the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, an easy solution not having to deal with the societal issue of child birth out of wedlock. For both countries adoption was the easy fix and in both countries an industry had established to make that easy fix possible.

Eventually by the late 1980s things changed in South Korea, although it would take another 20 years for inter-country adoption to reach somewhat natural levels.

Since inter-country adoption at the end of the 1980s was heavily reliant on supply from South Korea, the figures quickly dropped and reached a temporary low in 1992 (the peak in 1991 was entirely due to an out of control adoption situation in Romania).

The period since 1992 shows an massive increase in adoption followed by an even steeper decline since 2004. The cause for the initial increase can be contributed to essentially two cause: the fall of the Eastern Block and China's entrance on the adoption market.

From 1995 until 2004, more than 50 percent of all adoptions originated either in China or in one of the following countries of the former Eastern Block: The Russian Federation, Ukraine, Romania and Kazakhstan.

The following chart shows the relative contribution to inter-country adoption during the period 1992-2013.

The rapid decline of inter-country adoption after 2004 would have been even more pronounced if it weren't for Guatemala and Ethiopia. Both countries saw an enormous increase of inter-country adoption in the first decade of the 21st century, and both countries had to drastically scale back their adoption programs due to rampant corruption. The adoption booms in those two countries would probably not have happened had the adoption market not been so overheated.

Especially the fall of the Eastern Block resulted in the establishment of numerous new adoption agencies, all needing more and more customers to keep their business going. Guatemala, with its lax adoption laws and an already established league of adoption attorneys, was the ideal place to obtain children for the international adoption market. The result was another adoption boom.

By that time, adoption agencies had enough money in their coffers to invest in expanding their business to Africa. Ethiopia was the country of  choice, it had an already established albeit small, inter-country adoption system since 1991. The program remained relatively insignificant until 2004. Just when the adoptions from other countries started to fade, adoptions from Ethiopia started to boom, increasing almost tenfold in just six years time.

It seems unlikely inter-country adoption will soon return to the peak it had in 2004. The circumstances for that boom were extraordinary and it seems unlikely such circumstances will return in the near future.

There is however reason for concern with respect to both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The two countries could be at risk of another adoption boom, showing exponential growth over the last couple of years, as is demonstrated in the following graph.

If this trend continues in the next few years, inter-country adoption from these two countries will spin out of control and another adoption boom is born. Hopefully authorities in both countries will intervene before things get out of hand.


Pound Pup Legacy