2011. Vol.1, No.3, 91-95
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/sm.2011.13011
Gender-Asymmetry in Dating Success of Korean Adoptees
in the West*
Peter D. Dijkstra1,2, Daniel Schwekendiek3, Paul T. Y. Preenen4
1Behavioural Biology, Institute of Biology Leiden, Leiden University
2Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, USA;
3Center for Korean Studies, University of California, Berkeley, USA;
4Group of Work and Organizational Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Received March 3rd, 2011; revised April 6th, 2011; accepted May 7th, 2011.
Overseas adoption from South Korea is a widespread phenomenon in the West. Adoption studies have focused
on early development and post-adoption adjustment during childhood and socioeconomic success during adult-
hood. However, few studies deal with dating experiences and marital status of Korean adoptees, while these as-
pects are a key factor determining subjective well-being and sociocultural integration. Several studies and popu-
lar media highlight the status inferiority of Asian males compared to Asian females in the heterosexual Western
courtship system. We therefore hypothesize that male Korean adoptees have more difficulties finding a partner
than their female counterparts. Using a dataset stemming from a survey conducted among 290 adult adoptees
living in the West, we indeed found that, after controlling for the effect of age and current income, males ex-
pressed more difficulty in finding a partner and were more likely to be single than their female peers in their
adoptive Western country. This gender disparity may have implications for policy makers who are concerned
with general well-being of transracial adoptees and Asian minorities in the West.
Keywords: Interracial Dating, Marriage, Adoption, Migration, Gender, Korea, Asia, USA, Europe
Transracial adoption, that is, the adoption of children into
families of a different race, is a widespread phenomenon in the
West. For almost four decades of the last century, the greatest
segment of international adoptees were from South Korea. Their
popularity stemmed largely from the reliability and efficiency of
the adoption practice resulting initially from the Korean war
(1950-1953) that left many war orphans. Furthermore, push fac-
tors such as the economic and social burden of unwed mothers in
Korean society, and pull factors such as the introduction of birth
control devices and the female work participation in the West in
combination with the commercialisation of adoptions drastically
increased the number of babies sent from Korea to the West
(Huebinette, 2006). Given the large number of (Korean) adoptees
living in Western countries and the impact adoption can have on
their lives, it is not surprising that a large body of literature inves-
tigates how well particular adoptee groups fare in their adoptive
countries (Kim, 2010; Tuan & Shiao, 2011).
These adoption studies, to date, have mainly focused on
post-adoption adjustment and development during childhood
and ethno-cultural identity formation during late adolescence
and early adulthood (Basow, Lilley, Bookwala, & McGil-
licuddy-DeLisi, 2008; Kim, 1995; Shiao & Tuan, 2008). These
studies revealed for example that Korean adoptees have done
well in academic achievement and social adjustment compared
to adoptees from other ethnic groups, in spite of different and
serious adverse factors (Kim, 1995). Nonetheless, very few
studies deal with dating and romantic opportunities of Korean
adoptees, which is surprising since these aspects are widely
viewed as key factors determining general well-being and social
success. For instance, interracial marriages are often understood
as an indicator of successful assimilation (Belot & Fidrmuc,
2010). More importantly, being in a relationship has well-being
enhancing effects since partners provide not only love, intimacy
and sexual gratification (Diener & Fujita, 1995) but also in-
creased access to material and social resources (Soons &
Liefbroer, 2008; Wilson & Oswald, 2005). An important ques-
tion thus is how ‘successful’ Korean adoptees are in finding a
partner in their adoptive Western countries.
Overall, transracial adoptees from Asia seem to be less often
married than both the local population and white adoptees in
the West (Rooth, 2002: p. 74). Moreover, several quantitative
and qualitative studies observed that in the West, Asian males
are less likely to be married to Whites than Asian females
(Belot & Fidrmuc, 2010; Jacobs & Labov, 1995). This suggests
that Asian males will face, among available heterosexual part-
ners, a smaller pool of interested parties than Asian females.
There are a number of explanations for this sex disparity, in-
cluding lower socioeconomic status of Asian males compared
to their White counterparts and gender-specific value of body
height (Belot & Fidrmuc, 2010; Chow, 2000). Perhaps more
important than that, the media has an enormous bearing on how
Asian men and women are perceived in the West. While Asian
women are mostly hypersexualized in Hollywood and music
videos, Asian men are portrayed as emasculated nerds, see
Elaine H. Kim’s documentary “Slaying the Dragon reloaded:
Women in Hollywood and Beyond” (2010) or Charles Kuralt’s
*Lin Huffman provided useful comments on earlier versions of the manu-
script. The research was supported by a EU (International Outgoing Marie
Curie fellowship) to P.D.D. The authors would also like to thank the
anonymous referees for their comments that helped to improve this paper.
P. D. DIJKSTRA ET AL.
documentary “Misunderstanding China” (1972). This is per-
haps a remnant of the late 19th century: when Asia began to
economically rise and threaten Europe’s hegemony in the world
order, Europeans launched a ‘yellow peril’ campaign (Johnson
& Poddar, 2005: p. 541). At the same time, the increasing num-
ber of Asian immigrants to the New World, and in particular to
the United States, began to threaten white workers in the railroad
and mining industry. This resulted in anti-Asian sentiments that
were fuelled by Asian exclusionist groups (Takaki, 1998).
Emerging prostitution among Asian immigrant women as well
as a large number of Asian men becoming tailors, waiters, cooks,
and most frequently laundrymen in the frontier town economy
were exaggerated in white workers’ propaganda to arouse
anti-Asian sentiments (Eng, 2001: p. 92). This might have con-
tributed to the historical stereotypization of Asian females as
sexual objects and the emasculation of Asian men doing ‘femi-
nine’ jobs. Another factor for the hypersexualization of Asian
women is probably the emergence of U.S. military bases in the
Pacific after World War II. This resulted in rampant bride traf-
ficking and prostitution of poor Asian women around camp-
towns in Asia during the Cold War (Hoehn & Moon, 2010).
We hypothesized that male Korean adoptees have more trou-
ble finding a partner than female Korean adoptees. In a recent
study, Shiao and Tuan (2008) found no gender effect on dating
success or experience among Korean Adoptees in the USA, but
this study was based on a specific, limited sample size of 58
individuals. Another problem of that study was that adopted
parents were contacted by mail. However, previous research
found that a considerable share of adopted parents oppose their
Korean child’s activities to go back to his or her roots (Jung et
al. 2008), and that adult Korean adoptees in the United States
often seem to move from rural to urban areas (in stark contrast
to adult white adoptees)—perhaps as a result of maladjustment
(Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2009). In both cases,
primarily ‘well-adjusted’ Korean adoptees are living with their
adoptive parents or are still residing in their hometown—making
it more likely that a large share of ‘well-adjusted’ respondents
were apparently informed about the survey. A comprehensive
study on gender and dating experience of Korean adoptees in the
West is thus still lacking.
Using a dataset stemming from a survey conducted among 290
adult adoptees living in the USA, several Western European coun-
tries, and to a lesser extent in Australia (Jung, Gwon, & Schwek-
endiek, 2008), we investigate whether Korean male and female
adoptees experience different success rates in dating. Specifically,
we hypothesize that first, male Korean adoptees report more diffi-
culties finding a partner, and second, that male Korean adoptees are
more likely to be single than their female counterparts.
Sample and Procedure
We used data of the Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare and
Family Planning survey conducted among overseas adopted
Koreans in 2008 (Jung et al., 2008). Portions of the survey data
have been used in an earlier study (Schwekendiek, 2009).
Through adoption associations and social media sites Korean
adoptees from the United States, Europe and Australia were
asked to fill out an online questionnaire which included among
other variables, dating experience, marital status and demo-
graphics. These associations were officially listed in the Interna-
tional Korean Adoptees Resource Book (Overseas Koreans
Foundation, 2006), published by the Korean government in 2006
(and encouraged by the researchers to inform their members
about the government survey in 2008). The survey collected data
for 290 individuals. Individuals who answered ‘other’, ‘don’t
know’, or ‘prefer not to say’ to our questions regarding dating
experience and marital status were excluded from the present
analysis (dating experience: 26 cases; marital status: 3 cases).
In addition, we excluded 16 cases where the individuals re-
ported to have either a homo- or bisexual orientation, or who did
not report their sexual orientation (7 cases). Thus, this article
exclusively attempts to investigate the gender-asymmetry in the
Western dating market among Asian individuals with a hetero-
sexual orientation. Worth noting, however, is that in the
non-heterosexual Western world/sphere, Asian men and Asian
women have somewhat different positions, where Asian men
might even be privileged in the dating and mating markets com-
pared to Asian heterosexual men, while the contrary might be
true for their female counterparts. Considering the low number of
non-heterosexual respondents in the survey, however, we cannot
statistically test this hypothesis. In the survey, we find that an
average of 3% reported to be homosexual with no noticeable
differences between the USA (3%) and Europe (3%) (Jung et al.,
2008: p. 68). Also, about 2% of the Korean adoptees self-re-
ported to be gay and 3% to be lesbian. These rates are clearly
within the average range among local populations in the West.
For instance, previous research found that the prevalence of
non-heterosexual couples ranges from 1% - 9% for men and 1% -
6% for women in metropolitan areas of the United States (Black,
Gates, Sanders, & Taylor, 2000: p. 148). Along similar lines, a
previous study found that some 8% of men indicate to have
non-heterosexual desires, while some 3% self-identify them-
selves as gay (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994:
297). In this light, we can uphold that our heteronormative dating
analysis does make perfect sense, as Korean adoptees do not
seem to be disproportionably interested in same-gender partners.
Thus our final sample size consisted of a total of 241 hetero-
sexual Korean adoptees (32.8% male, 67.2% female). The
mean age of the respondents was 30.1 years (SD = 7.00; SE =
0.45), 180 of the respondents held a bachelor’s or master’s
degree (74.7%), 61 respondents held a professional or no de-
gree (25.3%), 112 participants lived in the US (46.5%), 117
participants lived in Europe (46.5%), and 11 respondents lived
in Australia (4.6%). Note that the sample size (N = 217) was
lower in the analysis that included age and income since several
respondents did not report these variables (age: 3 cases; income:
21 cases). The questionnaires were provided in English and
French. As discussed elsewhere (Schwekendiek, 2009), these
sample demographics are in line with the official demographics
of the 170,000 overseas Korean adoptee population and earlier
adoption studies, indicating that our sample is good enough to
represent the overall adoptees’ population from Korea.
It should also be noted that some associations, such as Global
Overseas Adoptees’ Link, an influential non-governmental
organization run by Korean adoptees based in South Korea,
claims that “upwards of 200,000 Korean children have been out
of Korea for adoption” (see http://www.goal.or.kr/eng/? slms=
info&lsms=1&sl=1&ls=1). However, confirmation of these
numbers are difficult in view of supporting statistical data pro-
vided by governments.
P. D. DIJKSTRA ET AL. 93
Dating Experience: Difficulty to Find a Partner
In order to rate the degree of opportunities for romantic con-
tact in the adoptive country, individuals were first asked the
following: ‘Did you have any serious problems finding a part-
ner in your adoptive (Western) country? If so, how often?’. The
four responses were 1 = never, 2 = yes, once, 3 = yes, several
times, 4 = yes, often.
Marital Status: The LikeLihood to be Single
In order to determine the proportion of males and females
that were currently in a romantic relationship, the individuals
were asked: ‘What is your marital status?’. The seven responses
were: 1 = single, 2 = attached (boyfriend/girlfriend), 3 = en-
gaged, 4 = married, 5 = divorced, 6 = widowed, 7 = other.
There was only one case reporting ‘windowed’, which was
excluded from the analysis. We collapsed responses 1, 5 and 6
into ‘single’, and 2, 3 and 4 into ‘with partner’, resulting in a
dichotomous response variable.
We controlled for age and current income level as measures
that might plausibly covary with our response variables. To
control for these factors individuals were asked: ‘How would
you describe your current income status?’ The four responses
were 1 = very high income, 2 = high income, 3 = middle income,
4 = low incom e, 5 = very low income.
We investigated differences between genders in the ex-
pressed level of difficulty of finding a partner using a
Mann-Whitney U test. To explore the effect of age and income
on the gender difference, we used a Generalized Linear Model,
treating the four possible responses as count data by employing
a negative binomial link function. We used gender as the ex-
planatory factor and age and current income as covariates. We
compared the proportion of males and females that were cur-
rently in a romantic relationship using a chi-square test. We
then explored the effect of age and income on the gender dif-
ference in a logistic regression, using the same explanatory
variables as above. The Generalized Linear Model and logistic
regression were run in a stepwise backward manner, sequen-
tially removing the non-significant (interaction) effects using a
threshold of p = 0.1.
As expected, males expressed more difficulty in finding a
partner than females in their adoptive Western country
(Mann-Whitney U test: U = 4317, p = .000002, N = 241). The
sex disparity was retained when controlling for the effect of age
and income (see Figure 1, gender: Wald = 14.74, df = 1, p
< .0001). Figure 1 suggests that the sex disparity tended to in-
crease with age, mainly as a result of older males expressing
more difficulty in finding a partner in contrast to the situation in
females. However, this effect was not significant (gender x age
Wald = .597, df = 1, p = .44). Current income was also retained
in the model as a significant positive predictor (Wald = 5.347,
df = 1, p = .021), see Table 2.
Relatively more females (65.2%) than males (56.2%) were in
current dating or marriage relationship (see Table 1). However,
this difference was statistically insignificant (males: 39 single
and 50 with partner; females: 62 single and 116 with partner, χ2
= 2.04, df = 1, p = .15). A logistic regression (Figure 2 and
Table 3) revealed, however, that the sex disparity in the likeli-
hood to have a partner tended to increase with age (age x gen-
der: Wald = 4.32, df = 1, p = .038), even when controlling for
the positive effect of current income (Wald = 8.393, df = 1, p =
0.004). This means that older male Korean adoptees are more
likely to be single than their female counterparts.
Dating experience as a function of age; Notes: Dating ex-
perience (the difficulty to find a partner) for male (open, N
= 75) and female Korean adoptees (closed, N = 143) as a
function of age. Shown are mean ± SE.
Marital status by gender.
Partnership status Women Men
Single 52 (32.0%) 32 (40.5%)
Attached 43 (26.1%) 23 (29.1%)
Engaged 5 (3.0%) 4 (5.1%)
Married 53 (32.1%) 15 (19.0%)
Divorced 8 (4.8%) 5 (6.3%)
Widowed 1 (0.6%) 0 (0%)
No answer 3 (1.8%) 0 (0%)
Notes: number and percentage in each marital status group by sex (women, N =
165; men, N = 79).
Regression on dating experience.
Between subject effects Wald p
Gender 14.74 0.000
Age 6.913 0.009
Income 5.347 0.021
Notes: factors explaining variation in dating experience (the perceived difficulty
to find a partner). Shown is the final model (Generalized Linear Model using the
negative binomial link function).
P. D. DIJKSTRA ET AL.
Regression on dating status.
Variable B S.E. Wald p
Gender 2.35 1.36 2.97 0.085
Age 0.06 0.03 3.82 0.051
Income –0.49 0.17 8.39 0.004
Gender x age –0.09 0.44 4.32 0.038
Constant –1.412 0.582 5.881 0.015
Notes: factors explaining dating status (the likelihood to be single). Shown is the
final logistic regression model.
Dating status as a function of age; Notes: Dating status for
male (open, N = 82) and female Korean adoptees (closed,
N = 156) as a function of age. Shown are mean ± SE.
The main purpose of this report was to compare the per-
ceived degree of difficulty of finding a partner and the likeli-
hood of being single in male and female overseas Korean
adoptees. In accordance with our prediction, males expressed
more difficulty in finding a partner than their female peers in
their adoptive Western country. Moreover, more males than
females were single, though this difference was not significant.
More importantly, in the older age category males were more
likely to be single than females.
To our knowledge, this study is the first to quantitatively
present the gender asymmetry in dating success and marital
status in Korean adoptees or any other transracial adoptees
group. The gender differences in dating experience are consis-
tent with previous studies of Asian American or Asian British
intermarriage, reporting more Asian females than Asian males
to be married to white spouses (Belot & Fidrmuc, 2010; Chow,
2000; Jacobs & Labov, 1995). Nonetheless, our findings con-
tradict an earlier study that did not report gender differences
among Korean adoptees (Shiao & Tuan, 2008). The latter study
may have failed to report gender differences, since its sample
size was small and since probably more ‘well-adjusted’ indi-
viduals were informed by mail about the survey.
The sex disparity seems most likely the result of a Western
mate preference defining Asian females, but not Asian males, as
attractive. This preference asymmetry can be explained by sev-
eral factors. First, the status inferiority of Asian males to White
males in the Western courtship system might result from en-
hanced power and privilege accorded to Whites in largely Euro-
centric societies, giving rise to higher racial status and attrac-
tiveness of White males (Chow, 2000). Secondly, mainstream
stereotypes of Asian males and females may have shaped mate
preferences in White people (Espiritu, 1997; Liang & Ito, 1999).
Moreover, Belot and Fidrmuc (2010) found that height distribu-
tion of white and Asian men, in conjunction with a simple pref-
erence for a taller husband, is sufficient to explain the observa-
tion that Chinese men are half less likely to be married to a
white person than Chinese women in the UK and the USA.
Unexpectedly, we observed that the sex disparity in the like-
lihood to have a partner tended to increase with age. There are
several mutually non-exclusive explanations for this and we can
only speculate about how relevant they are here. A growing
pan-Asian identity in the Western hemisphere may have im-
proved the potential of Asian males in the Western courtship
system (Chow, 2000). Other environmental or social factors that
differ between the age cohorts may account for the observed
gender and age interaction, although the underlying causal
mechanisms are unclear. For example, in the USA a significant
fraction of Korean adoptees spends early adulthood in college.
The growing number of Asian college students in the last dec-
ades may have brought greater romantic opportunities for males
from younger age cohorts (Shiao & Tuan, 2008). More ad-
vanced statistical studies on this are needed to confirm this.
An important limitation of this study is that individuals were
not selected randomly because no information of the adoptees
was made available to the researchers by the adoption agencies
or the government due to privacy protection issues of the
adoptees and the Korean birth families. Instead, the survey was
promoted through national and overseas adoptees’ communities,
which in turn were asked to contact their members to participate.
Sampled adoptees initiating or staying in touch with overseas
networks might have stronger interests (leading to a higher de-
gree of self-selection) than the average adoptee; hence, possibly
skewing some answers. However, when comparing answers of a
control group in the survey that did not self-select themselves
through such organizations but was informed about the survey
by families and friends, no large distortions in the answers were
found (Jung et al., 2008), suggesting that our data is good
enough to broadly represent the Korean adoption population.
Another concern might be that we are overlooking the fact
that Korean adoptees in the West can date both whites and
other races, including their own Asian race. However, it seems
that adopted Korean males are more often dating Asian partners
than their female counterparts do (Jung et al., 2008: p. 69),
which is perhaps exactly a result of local (white) partner con-
straints among Asian males (but not females). In this light, our
analysis may even under-estimate the effects of dating prob-
lems among Asian men in the West.
Lastly, it is needless to say that many other unobserved fac-
tors affect the gender asymmetry in dating success among Ko-
rean adoptees. Worth noting is that the timing of the ‘first con-
tact’ with other ethnic groups (Ellison & Powers, 1994) seems
to have a significant impact on choosing social networks in
later life (including possibly partnerships).
P. D. DIJKSTRA ET AL. 95
To end, our data show that Korean male adoptees face more
difficulties finding a partner than their female counterparts.
This may have implications for adoption policy makers who are
concerned with the general well-being of adoptees. Overseas
adoption from South Korea, and more recently China, is a
widespread phenomenon in the West; debates about adoption
policies and procedures, as well as how well adoptees fare in
early life (Lien, Meyer, & Winick, 1977; Teilmann, Pedersen,
Skakkebæk, & Jensen, 2006; Winick, Meyer, & Harris, 1975)
and adult life (Shiao & Tuan, 2008), often attract a lot of atten-
tion. Some studies on Korean adoptees have revealed that they
have done well in academic achievement and socioeconomic
adjustment compared to other ethnic groups (Kim, 1995), but
our study reveals that Korean male adoptees have considerably
more troubles finding partners in their adoptive Western coun-
tries than their female counterparts. The ability to find a partner
or spouse has a positive effect on a person’s subjective
well-being (Ribar, 2004; Soons & Liefbroer, 2008). We there-
fore conclude that subjective well-being factors such as dating
success and romantic opportunities should be seriously consid-
ered by policy makers in the discussion of general well-being of
transracial adoptees and Asian minorities in the West.
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