Proposal preview

For Children or the Family? Comparative Historical Perspectives on Adoption and Family Formation in Eurasia

Adoption, in its modern form, is a legal institution that creates a parent-child relationship between two individuals regardless of blood relations. As such, it is an important means both for a family who lacks biological offspring to continue its lineage and for a child who lacks adequate parental care to acquire a new and permanent home. Adoption is a widely accepted method of family formation in many contemporary societies, yet the institution of adoption differs substantially across societies as well as across time within the same society. The purpose of this session is to understand the reasons for such institutional diversity and explore its welfare implications by conducting comparative historical studies of adoption practices in East Asia and Western Europe.

In East Asia, adoption has played a vital role in ensuring family continuation since at least the early modern period. However, while the adoption of adults (especially of sons-in-law) became a dominant practice in Japan, the adoption of prospective daughters-in-law at a young age was common in Taiwan, and the primary form of adoption in Korea was the adoption of patrilineal male children. By contrast, in Western Europe, although adoption was common in Roman times, it largely disappeared in medieval times and was non-existent in the early modern period. France was the first country to reintroduce adoption in the early 19th century, allowing adult adoption for the purpose of family inheritance, but child adoption was not permitted in Western Europe well into the 20th century. It was the U.S. who pioneered in promoting the adoption in the best interests of the child in the late 19th century, and with the experience of two world wars (which produced a large number of orphans and abandoned children) the adoption of children in need of care became a major form of adoption in most western societies. In East Asia, as the primary beneficiary of adoption continued to be a family (rather than a child in need of care) well into the post-WWII period, adoption has played a limited role in child welfare policies, resulting in a high proportion of children cared in institutions or adopted internationally by families in western societies.

Even though the institution of adoption has important implications for the welfare of children, as preceding research has focused mostly on the legal and cultural history of adoption, quantitative empirical studies are exceedingly rare. In this session, taking advantage of both historical national statistics and individual-level microdata (such as population registries and genealogies), we compare the evolution of child and adult adoption in Asia and Europe, explore economic and non-economic rationales for the diverse practices, and investigate their long-run implications.

1. Satomi Kurosu (Reitaku University) and Hao Dong (Princeton University) “Adoption as a Family Continuity Strategy in Early Modern Japan, 1700-1870”
2. Sangwoo Han (Sungkyunkwan University) and Byunggiu Son (Sungkyunkwan University) “Dividing Property and Sharing Sons: A Socio-economic Family Strategy in the 18-20th Century Korea”
3. Xingchen Lin (TamKang University) and Yau-hsuan Kao (National Chiao Tung University) “Fate, Custom or Economy: The Mortality Difference between Adopted Daughters and Adopted Daughters-in-law in Taiwan, 1905-1944”
4. Wen Shan Yang (Academia Sinica) and Chun Hao Li (Yuan Ze University) “Giveaway Daughter and Mother’s Attachment: A Test of Hrdy’s Mother Nature
Hypothesis in Colonial Taiwan”
5. Jean-François Mignot (French National Centre for Scientific Research) “Child Adoption in Western Europe, 1900-2015”
6. Chiaki Moriguchi (Hitotsubashi University) “From Pragmatic to Sentimental Adoption: The Evolution of Child Adoption in the United States, 1900-2000” and “Child Adoption and Child Welfare Policies in Japan and Korea, 1950-2015”


  • Chiaki Moriguchi, Hitotsubashi University,, Japan
  • Jean-François Mignot, French National Centre for Scientific Research,, France
  • Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University,, Japan

Session members

  • Hao Dong, Princeton University,
  • Sangwoo Han, Sungkyunkwan University,
  • Satomi Kurosu, Reitaku University,
  • Chun Hao Li, Yuan Ze University,
  • Xingchen Lin, TamKang University,
  • Jean-François Mignot, French National Centre for Scientific Research,
  • Chiaki Moriguchi, Hitotsubashi University,
  • Byunggiu Son, Sungkyunkwan University,
  • Wen Shan Yang, Academia Sinica,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • George Alter, University of Michigan,
  • Peter Lindert, UC Davis,
  • Marcia Yonemoto, University of Colorado Boulder,


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