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Saving International Adoption
An Argument from Economics and Personal Experience

Author(s): Mark Montgomery, Irene Powell

Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2018

International adoption is in a state of virtual collapse, rates having fallen by more than half since 2004 and continuing to fall. Yet around the world millions of orphaned and vulnerable children need permanent homes, and thousands of American and European families are eager to take them in. Many government officials, international bureaucrats, and social commentators claim these adoptions are not "in the best interests" of the child. They claim that adoption deprives children of their "birth culture," threatens their racial identities, and even encourages widespread child trafficking. Celebrity adopters are publicly excoriated for stealing children from their birth families.

This book argues that opposition to adoption ostensibly based on the well-being of the child is often a smokescreen for protecting national pride. Concerns about the harm done by transracial adoption are largely inconsistent with empirical evidence. As for trafficking, opponents of international adoption want to shut it down because it is too much like a market for children. But this book offers a radical challenge to this view—that is, what if instead of trying to suppress market forces in international adoption, we embraced them so they could be properly regulated? What if the international system functioned more like open adoption in the United States, where birth and adoptive parents can meet and privately negotiate the exchange of parental rights? This arrangement, the authors argue, could eliminate the abuses that currently haunt international adoption.

The authors challenge the prevailing wisdom with their economic analyses and provocative analogies from other policy realms. Based on their own family's experience with the adoption process, they also write frankly about how that process feels for parents and children.

Biography of Author(s)

Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell have taught economics at Grinnell College for twenty-seven years. Their research publications range from higher education and employment policy to child care and gender discrimination. They have three grown children—a birth daughter, a son adopted domestically, and a son from Sierra Leone.


  • "Illuminating? Infuriating? It depends on your perspective when you open the book. Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell bring their experience as economists and adoptive parents to a subject where views have become both polarized and petrified. An informed, novel, and provocative contribution to the debate on international adoption, a subject desperately in need of new insights."
    Dana E. Johnson, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota
  • "This book takes a refreshingly candid and original look at issues in international adoption. With courage and insight, the authors apply the disciplinary lens of economics to examine the regulation of international adoption and the unintended consequences of that regulation for vulnerable children and families. Required reading for those who seek novel perspectives advocating for every child's fundamental right to a family."
    Rebecca Compton, Professor of Psychology, Haverford College, and author of Adoption Beyond Borders: How International Adoption Benefits Children
  • "The authors make profound and very persuasive arguments based on their own experience as adopters and on case studies. . . . This book needs to be read not only by administrators of adoption programs but also by all members of the public so that public opinion can bring about the excellent changes the book suggests. . . . Essential."