My answer, originally published on Quora.

Q: Why do so few African-American children get adopted?

My sister has been looking to adopt for a while now so we've been talking about adoption in general for some time. Over several conversations and research it became clear just how disproportionate the numbers of unadopted black children are.

Most adopting couples are white, which makes sense because of the overall racial distribution, but it gives the impression that black families are much less likely to adopt at all. Is this because of a system that discriminates against potential adopting black families?

It seems heartbreaking that so many children suffer it out in the system when there's so many adults that want children. I wish we could end "blood line" concept and take care of the children already here.

My Answer

Since you are asking about unadopted children, I assume this question is about adopting from the Foster Care system. Basically, in the USA, the issue is as follows:

First: Non-Hispanic black kids disproportionately enter the Foster Care system

only 14% of USA kids are non-Hispanic black, but are 26% of the kids in Foster Care. Reasons for this might be institutional bias, but there are also some studies that indicate that black children are more than 2x as likely to suffer abuse than the average child. (See Dept of Health & human Services study, "Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4) Report to Congress".)

Second: Once in Foster Care, black children are made available for adoption at roughly the same rate as white children.

But then, in terms of actually being adopted, fewer black kids are adopted than you would expect, but more white kids. See table below:


Then, things become unclear

From there, it is NOT straightforward to figure out WHY proportionately fewer black kids are adopted from foster care than white kids. In fact, from the following data points, you'd expect black children to be adopted at a slightly higher rate than white kids:

Percentage-wise, blacks are actually more likely to adopt than Whites. This seems to rule out institutional bias against black couples who want to adopt, and definitely rules out the idea that black couples don't want to adopt.

  • BACKING STAT #1: Married non-Hispanic black women (age 18-44) adopt at a higher rate than married non-Hispanic white women: 2.0% versus 1.6%. (Table 1 of the CDC study, "Adoption Experiences of Women and Men and Demand for Children to Adopt by Women 18–44 Years of Age in the United States, 2002" (Page on Cdc )

The vast majority of women--black or white--who are seeking to adopt say they will accept a child of any race.

  • BACKING STAT #2: 83.6% of white women and 87.5% of black women would accept a black child (table 15, Page on Cdc )
  • BACKING STAT #3: 100% of white women and 75.0% of black women would accept a white child (table 15, Page on Cdc )

I'd hypothesize a few explanations, but I don't have the data to prove them:

  1. Response bias. Simply saying you would (theoretically) adopt someone from a different race is different than actually going through with the adoption.

  2. Other factors are the cause, but those factors strongly correlate with race. Perhaps black kids in Foster Care are also more likely to be older, be part of a large sibling group, or have disabilities. Women who seek to adopt claim to have much more stringent criteria for age, # siblings, and disabilities than they do for race (see the above mentioned CDC study). So, perhaps race is correlated with one of these other factors.

If you had the actual data set, you could analyze race vs age vs disabilities vs sibling group size. That data set is available here: National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN), Cornell University, College of Human Ecology, but I do not have the energy to apply for access to it.