What did I find?
General agreement that adopted children are over-represented in treatment programs. They are more likely to have behavioral problems and are twice as likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or oppositional defiant disorder as their non-adopted peers. Behavior Problems concludes, however, that just five percent of adoptees account for the higher rate of behavior problems among adoptees. The other 95 percent are doing just fine. (I’m not sure I’d want those odds, but they are better than winning the lottery.) The authors explain that problem behavior on the part of the five percent may be due to bad genes, prenatal substance abuse by mothers, or negative pre-adoption experiences. (Cherchez la femme!)
One analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that "international adoptees have more behavioral problems than the nonadopted controls, although the degree of dysfunction was small. On the other hand, when compared with domestic adoptees, international adoptees had fewer total behavioral problems and fewer mental health referrals." ***
Interestingly, in spite of the claims of adoption apologists, none of the researchers reported that those adopted domestically as infants fared better than their non-adopted peers. In fact, none of these esteemed academics seem to have asked the question.
I then decided to examine the truthiness of the assumed benefits: Being adopted as a newborn into a stable two-parent home averts a life of "degradation" which would inevitably result from being raised by an unwed mother. What I found is that while adoption may be a miracle, its benefits for those adopted domestically as infants appear to be a mirage. Adoption may be the only social institution that is justified because it does not cause a lot of harm.
Although I could not find the total number of American adults living today who were born to single women, I extrapolated data from the Centers for Disease Control and concluded that 20 to 25 percent of the population was. **** Only a small fraction of these babies born to single mothers--about one to two percent--are surrendered for adoption: In 1990, about 16,000 of the 1.2 million and in 1980 about 19,000 of the 665,000. It’s a good thing that 98 percent of the moms were willing to keep their misbegotten babies since it’s unlikely that even Edna Gladney could find the millions of couples that would be required to adopt them.
The US adult population is about 240 million which means about 48 million to 60 million American adults were born to single mothers. If being a nonadopted but illegitimate individual results in dysfunction, we could expect a substantial number of these to be in prison. The actual prison population is about two million. And of course, some inmates were adopted. Critics like George Will will point out that children from single parent homes are more likely to be on welfare or drop out of school. The solution to these social ills, however, is more financial support for low income families and better schools. As the numbers show, it is impossible for the US to adopt its way out of social problems.
Meanwhile, we know that adoption causes trauma in adoptees and birth parents although, as with any trauma, people are affected differently. The very existence of adoption therapists, of adoptee and birth parent support groups, of activists seeking to open adoption records, is proof that adoptees and birth parents are affected negatively by adoption. To put it another way, I challenge anyone to find a support group for adults dealing with the loss associated with not being adopted, a retreat for women grieving over not giving up their babies, or a children’s book about how it feels to be raised in your own family and not in a family of genetic strangers.
*Ann E. Brand and Paul M. Brinich, "Behavior Problems and Mental Health Contacts in Adopted, Foster, and Nonadopted Children," J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. Vol. 40, No. 8, pp. 1221±1229, 1999.
** Arlene Kaplan, "Adoption and Mental Illness," Psychiatric Times, Jan. 26, 2009
*** Laurie C. Miller, MD, "International Adoption, Behavior and Mental Health," JAMA, Vol. 293, No. 20 2533, May 25, 2005
**** In 1990 28 percent of babies were born to single women and in 1980, 18.4 (The “illegitimacy” rate has increased to about 40 percent in 2007, resulting in over 1.7 million new bastards.)