The end of infant adoption

Adopting a baby or toddler is much more difficult than it was a few decades ago. Of the nearly 4 million American children who are born each year, only about 18,000 are voluntarily relinquished for adoption. Though the statistics are unreliable, some estimates suggest that dozens of couples are now waiting to adopt each available baby. Since the mid-1970s—the end of the so-called baby-scoop era, when large numbers of unmarried women placed their children for adoption—the percentage of never-married women who relinquish their infants has declined from nearly 9 percent to less than 1 percent…

At a glance, this shortage of adoptable babies may seem like a problem, and certainly for people who desperately want to adopt a baby, it feels like one. But this trend reflects a number of changing social and geopolitical attitudes that have combined to shrink the number of babies or very young children available for adoption. Over the past few decades, many people—including those with strong commitments to the idea of infant adoption—have reconsidered its value to children. Though in the short term this may be painful for parents who wish to adopt infants, in the long term, it might be better for some children and their birth families. Many babies in the developing world who once would have been brought to America will now be raised in their home country instead. And Americans who were planning to adopt may have to refocus their energies on older, vulnerable foster children—or change their plans entirely. Infant adoption was once seen as a heartwarming win-win for children and their adoptive parents. It’s not that simple.