Girl adoption in China—A less-known side of son preference

Yuyu Chen, Avraham Ebenstein, Lena Edlund*, Hongbin Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In 1987, 4 per cent of girls were adopted within China. Why? Unlike infanticide, abandonment rids parents of daughters while preserving the supply of potential brides. In fact, an erstwhile tradition common in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces had parents of sons adopting an infant girl to serve as a future daughter-in-law and household help. Analysing a nationally representative 1992 survey of children, we found that: (1) girl adoptions were concentrated in the above-mentioned provinces; (2) girls were predominantly adopted by families with sons; (3) adopted girls faced substantial disadvantage as measured by school attendance at ages 8–13. In the 1990s, as the sex ratio at birth climbed, were girls aborted rather than abandoned? Observing that in the 2000 census too many girls appear in families with older sons, we estimated that at least 1/25 girls were abandoned in the 1990s, a proportion that in Fujian and Jiangxi may have peaked at 1/10 in 1994.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)161-178
Number of pages18
JournalPopulation Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 4 May 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Population Investigation Committee.


  • China
  • girl abandonment
  • girl adoption
  • son preference
  • surplus girls


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