Adult Adopted Persons

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adult adopted persons

A person over age 18 who was adopted as a child or, in some cases, (usually for reasons of inheritance) as an adult. Most adopted adults were adopted as infants or children.

Some adopted adults have stated they resent the label of "adopted child" that society often places on all adopted persons, regardless of age. They believe this phrase connotes an aura of immaturity and diminishes the adopted person's responsible adult status.

Psychological Adjustment of Adopted Persons

Most adults who were adopted as children appear to have successfully resolved any conflicts stemming from their adoption.

Studies of adopted adults reveal those who are the most well-adjusted and confident have known of their adoptive status for a long time; however, some who learned of their adoption later in life are able to accept this information constructively.

Katherine A. Kowal and Karen Maitland Schilling reported on adult adopted persons in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. They studied 110 adopted adults, ages 17 to 77, recruited through adoption agencies and a "search" group; 75% were female, and 108 were white.

The adopted adults were asked for their perceptions of their adoptions and could agree or disagree with one or more of the suggested statements. 35.45% reported they felt "chosen or special"; 21.82% reported they felt "no different from anybody else"; 20.91% reported "feeling different, but neither better nor worse than others"; 25.45% were "worried or insecure about being adopted"; and 17.27% were "embarrassed or uncomfortable with the fact of their adoption."

When asked what information they wish adoption agencies would provide to adoptive parents, presumably to be passed on to them later, the adults reported medical information as the most desired data-75% of the subjects wanted information on the birthparents' medical history.

Seventy-one percent said they wanted information on personality characteristics of the birthparents. (This information was actually given to only about 4% of the adopted persons.)

It's unclear whether adoption agencies had provided such information to the adoptive parents, but it seems likely that a personality appraisal probably was not given. In addition, the researchers stated that other studies had revealed that adoptive parents tend to present a very positive and euphemistic view of the birthparent. They wrote,

Many subjects had been given a reason why they were placed for adoption, yet this information still ranked high on their list of things they wanted to know?.?.?.

Some other information desired by adopted adults included a physical description of birthparents; the ethnic background of the birthparents; information on the adopted person's early medical history; the names of the birthparents (in most cases, unknown to the adoptive parents); interests of the birthparents; the reasons why an adoption decision was made for the adopted person; the education and occupation of the birthparents; where they resided as young children before the adoption took place, (in a foster home, with a relative, etc.); and other factors.

At least one study has found adopted persons to be better-adjusted than those who were not adopted. Kathlyn Marquis and Richard Detweiler reported on their findings.

Wrote the authors, "Contrary to expectations, adopted persons are significantly more confident and view others more positively than do nonadopted persons."

In addition, the attitudes of adopted adults toward their parents was compared to the attitudes of nonadopted persons toward their parents. The researchers found that "adoptive parents are experienced as significantly more nurturant, comforting, predictable, protectively concerned and helpful than nonadoptive parents." (See also ADJUSTMENT.)

Adopted adults were also found to have a stronger sense of control over their lives, and demonstrated more self-assurance of their own judgement.

The authors concluded,

The adopted may be different but, in contrast to the literature, may be different by being more positive rather than more negative than their nonadopted peers .?.?. If, as the earlier literature implies, there were large numbers of mentally ill adopted adults, one would expect to find some indication of this in the community population when compared with a similar community population of nonadopted peers?.?.?.

It is important to note the overwhelming majority of adult adopted persons studied by Marquis and Detweiler were adopted as infants: 89% were adopted within three months of birth, and 95% were adopted within one year of birth.

The social and psychological adjustment of adopted persons who were adopted at an older age could yield very different results, particularly if they had been victims of child abuse or were placed in one or more foster care settings prior to the adoption. (See DISRUPTION for further information.)

Lois Raynor studied adopted adults among adopted Britons and reported her findings in her book The Adopted Child Comes of Age.

Out of 104 adopted adults interviewed, 80% reported their adoption experience was "very satisfactory" or "reasonably satisfactory" (58% reported very satisfactory and 22% reported reasonably satisfactory).

Reported Raynor, "Of the three who were very unhappy in their adoption, one was a young woman who had been placed in a very busy and incredibly class-conscious family, who attributed everything, good or bad, to heredity." In another case, a very intelligent boy was placed in an "unsophisticated" family, and the parents were unable to control the child.

The third very unhappy adopted person had been placed shortly after his adoptive parents had lost a beloved infant because his birthmother had reclaimed him. "Apparently the adoptive mother had not been able to work through her grief at the time, as nearly 25 years later at the research interview she wept bitterly for her lost baby. The son said he had always been compared unfavourably with the reclaimed child."

It's readily apparent this family was in no way ready to accept a child at the time they were placed with one. Most social workers today would refuse to place a child in a home where the adoptive parents were grieving such a loss.

Adopted persons were also far happier about their adoption when they perceived some common grounds with their adoptive parents in interests, appearance or other factors. Of the adopted adults who felt "very much like" their adoptive parents, 97% rated their adoption experience as satisfactory. Conversely, 52% who perceived themselves as "unlike or uncertain" rated the experience as satisfactory.

Individual satisfaction with information provided the adopted person about the adoption was related to the perception of the adoption expe-rience. It was not the amount of information provided but whether or not the individual felt it was a sufficient amount that was the critical element.

Raynor noted, "Some were content with very little while others wanted much more. No apparent relationship was found between satisfaction and how often the adoption was discussed within the family-this seemed to be a highly individual matter-but there was a clear relationship with the degree of ease and comfort people felt in being able to ask their adoptive parents for further information if they wanted it."

The adopted persons were also rated by Raynor on current levels of adjustment: 70% were rated as "excellent" or "good," 25% were "marginal," and 5% were "poor."

Among the 5% who were poorly adjusted, Raynor interviewed one man who was in prison and very depressed and had been delinquent since age eight. "The adoptive mother had died before he went to school, his uninterested father somewhat later, and he was brought up by an adoptive relative who felt it was her Christian duty but who had no enthusiasm for the task," reported Raynor.

Raynor also observed that biological parents are rarely contrasted with adoptive parents, nor are biological children asked later in life if they were and are happy.

No one knows what proportion of parents are satisfied with the children born to them, or vice versa. No one can say what proportion of young adults would be considered well-adjusted by the rather stringent criteria which we used in this project?.?.?. the cost and technical problems in finding a properly matched sample of adopted adults have defeated all researchers so far."

In a unique longitudinal study of adopted adults in the United Kingdom, researchers found positive results, particularly among adopted women, who fared better than their nonadopted cohort in some cases.

In this study, drawn from the National Child Development Study in England, the adopted children were followed at age 7, 11, and 16 years and then at age 33. Nearly all (about 92%) were adopted under the age of one year. Researchers compared the adopted adults to individuals who were born to nonmarried mothers but who were not adopted. The adopted adults were similar to the nonadopted group in that they were of lower than usual birthweight and were born to young mothers who received little or no prenatal care. The adopted adults were also compared to nonadopted individuals born to married couples.

Researchers obtained data from members of the original study group at age 33, including 84 adopted adults (37 women and 47 men), 137 birth comparison subjects and 1,489 subjects in the general population.

They found that adopted females were in the best socioeconomic situation, with general population subjects second and birth comparison subjects last. They also found that adopted males fared better in housing and occupation than the birth comparison subjects. They did find that the adopted males were more likely to have been fired from a job than subjects in the other groups, although the reason for this was unclear.

In looking at relationships, men and women in the birth comparison groups were the most likely to have experienced a marital/cohabitation breakdown as compared with the adopted adults or general population adults, who experienced about the same rate of marital breakdowns.

Birth comparison women were more likely to have had unplanned pregnancies and to smoke during pregnancy than the other two groups. Interestingly, adopted women delayed childbearing the longest. The mean age for the adopted woman having her first child was 26.2 years, compared to 24.4 in the general population group and 23.1 years in the birth comparison group.

In terms of emotional disorders, the birth comparison group fared worst and the birth comparison group males had higher rates of alcoholism than the other groups.

In terms of social supports available to them, women across the board reported higher levels of support than men; however, adopted women reported experiencing the highest levels of support from friends, parents and others, while birth comparison individuals reported the lowest.

In general, the birth comparison group fared the worst in nearly all measures. Said the authors, "Members of the birth comparison group were in less favorable social and material circumstances than the majority of cohort members. Both men and women had been vulnerable to relationship breakdowns, and women in particular reported high rates of current depressive affect and past help-seeking for emotional problems, as well as somewhat restricted social support.

"Adopted women, by contrast, showed no elevated rates of problems in any of these domains; indeed, their levels of emotional problems were rather lower than in the population comparison group, and their perceived social supports in some ways more extensive."

It was unclear why the adopted women fared better than the adopted men, although the researchers speculated that perhaps genetic differences caused more difficult adjustments in males than females.


Paul M. Brinich, Ph.D., and Evelin B. Brinich, M.A., "Adoption and Adaptation," The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 170, 8: 489-493.

S. Collishaw, et al., "Infant Adoption: Psychosocial Outcomes in Adulthood," Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 33, no. 2 (February 1998): 57-65.

David Howe, Patterns of Adoption (Oxford, England: Blackwell Science, 1998).

Katherine A. Kowal, Ph.D., and Karen Maitland Schilling, Ph.D., "Adoption Through the Eyes of Adult Adoptees," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 55 (July 1985) 354-362.

Susan Marie Raffloer, "A Comparative Study of Adjustment Variables Among Adopted and Nonadopted Adults," Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1980.

Jerome Smith, Ph.D., and Franklin I. Miroff, You're Our Child: The Adoption Experience (Lanham, Mo.: Madison Books, 1987).

Kathlyn S. Marquis and Richard A. Detweiler, "Does Adopted Mean Different? An Attributional Analysis," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48:4 (1985): 1054-1066.

Lois Raynor, The Adopted Child Comes of Age (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1980).

Marshall D. Schecter, M.D., "Observations on Adopted Children," Archives of General Psychiatry 3 (July 1960): 21-32.

Judy M. Sobczak, "A Comparison of Adult Adoptees and Nonadoptees on Level of Depression and Quality of Relationships with Parents," Ph.D. diss., University of Toledo, 1987.

Find more information on adult adopted persons

Visitor Comments (1)
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hikl - 3 years ago
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I am adopted and I am not happy about being adopted if your going to force me to be adopted than you better support me I hate the fact I was adopted and nbody spent money on me my adopters wouldn't spend money on me but excpected me to support myself this is bullshit I then had to be homeless and live in a barn at 12 years old because my adopted parents where to lazy to spend money on me #1

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