A study released yesterday of prospective adoptive parents found a big, fat quantifiable preference for girls. A team of CalTech economists found, looking at one online adoption agency over a five-year period, that girls were one-third more likely to attract the attention of adoptive parents than boys – and remember, economists are willing to ask some of the creepy questions that the rest of us might feel dirty for even wondering – parents were willing to pay $16,000 more in finalization costs to adopt a girl than a boy.
This is all somewhat surprising because biological parents, when they do use ultrasound and abortion to choose a kid's sex, tend to select boys over girls.
Really, people? It seems horrifying to care so much either way, when babies and kids of both sexes are so charming. In my son's dance class last summer, when the kids would select props, always with a hint of tension over their favorite items, the kids were taught to chant cheerfully, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset." Perhaps it's because I'm a New England Puritan, but this seems a useful ditty for parents as well.
Sex-selective abortions seem to occur mostly in cultures where girls are not valued, or are particularly costly, because of dowries, for example. (Of course I think people should be allowed to make their own reproductive choices, legally. But if we're not comfortable saying that sex selection is a dumb-ass reason to have an abortion, we're just too tolerant of a dumb-ass world.) But I'm curious why the adoptive parents prefer girls. Do girl children inspire rescue fantasies? Is it because privileged people find foreign or underclass males scarier than females? (The CalTech researchers, by the way, also found a steep inclination against African-American kids among this all-white sample.) Adoption inspires intense anxieties about the unknown; perhaps those fears map onto broader worries about boys and their behavior problems, even yielding some grudging public sympathy with the Tennessee mother who recently sent her adopted seven-year-old back to Russia after he threatened to burn down the house. Absent a man's desire for a biological male heir, or the difficulties facing parents of girls in hard-core patriarchal societies, do the perils and headaches of raising boys just seem too daunting?
I'm no expert on this, and reluctant to draw conclusions from either the sex selection or the adoption data, but I do wonder what the findings might reveal about the way we view both boys and girls -- even before we've ever met them.
What do you think?