Adopting a child, as an alternative to bearing a child, is a widely accepted means of creating a family in America today. By contrast, it is surprisingly uncommon for married couples in Japan to adopt an infant and raise the child “as their own.” In my estimates, the rate of unrelated child adoption per 10,000 births in recent years was about 170 in the U.S. and 6 in Japan. In this study, I use a framework of family economics to examine the evolution of child adoption in the U.S. and Japan from 1950 to 2010. I compile historical statistics to compare the trends in child adoption and explore demand-side, supply-side, and institutional factors underlying the observed trends. I find that, in the U.S., there has been an “excess demand” for adoptable infants throughout the postwar period and thus the trends were essentially driven by the availability of infants relinquished for adoption. Due to large supply shocks, the composition of child adoption in the U.S. has changed greatly from domestic infant adoption to the adoption of foreign infants and foster-care children since the 1970s. It is much harder to explain the adoption trends in Japan, however, which exhibit a persistent and continuous decline over the last five decades. Taking advantage of the major legal reform that took place in 1988, I test a demand-side theory of child adoption and examine what motivated parents to adopt children in Japan. Finally, I discuss a role of child adoption in improving children’s welfare.
Chiaki Moriguchi is a professor at the Institute of Economic Research of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. She received a BA from Kyoto University, an MA from Osaka University, and a PhD from Stanford University, all in economics. She was an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and Northwestern University and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, prior to joining Hitotsubashi University in 2009. Her main research fields are comparative economic history, comparative institutional analysis, and the economics of family. She has worked on the comparative historical analysis of employment systems, income inequality, and family formation in Japan and the U.S. Her research has appeared in Review of Economics and Statistics, Journal of Economic History, and Industrial and Labor Relations Review. She is a recipient of the 2011 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Prize.