Adoption Facts
Adoption Facts

98 Interesting Facts about Adoption

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published February 17, 2017
  • Famous people who were adopted include Jamie Foxx, Jack Nicholson (by his grandparents), Ray Liotta, Steve Jobs, Frances McDormand, Nicole Richie, Debbie Harry (“Blondie”), Dave Thomas (Wendy’s Founder), Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi, Gary Coleman, Faith Hill, Melissa Gilbert, and Scott Hamilton.[2]
  • Prior to the development of infant formula in the 1920s, most adoptees were older children.[1]
  • More than 60% of children in foster care spend two to five years in the system before being adopted. Almost 20% spend five or more years in foster care before being adopted. Some never get adopted.[4]
  • Of the over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., 114,556 cannot be returned to their families and are waiting to be adopted. Among these children, males outnumber females, African American children are disproportionally represented, and over half are 6 years old or older.[7]
  • Interesting Orphan Train Fact
    Between 1854 and 1929, approximately 200,000 orphaned or homeless children were placed during what is known today as the Orphan Train Movement
  • From 1854-1929, homeless children (especially Catholics and Jews) were placed on trains and taken to rural sites in the Midwest and West in search of homes. At each stop, children were “put up” on platforms to see if anyone would want to take them, which led to the phrase “put up for adoption.” Criticism of the Orphan Train movement sparked new agencies and laws, such as Minnesota’s Adoption Law of 1917, which required an investigation of all adoptions.[1]
  • The age distribution of children in foster care waiting for adoptions is as follows: 

    1-3 years = 26% 
    4-6 years = 19% 
    7-9 years = 15% 
    10-14 years = 20% 
    15+ years = 12%.
  • One in 3 children adopted from foster care are adopted by parents who are a different race. Most adopted children from foster care are non-white, while the majority (73%) of the children’s adopted parents is white.[7]
  • Nearly 40% of children adopted from foster care live in families with three or more adopted and birth children, making their family structures more complex than other adopted children.[7]
  • Over 30,000 children in the American foster care system “age out” each year.[8]
  • The time it takes a couple to receive a child domestically or internationally depends on many factors, such as how restrictive a family’s adoption plan is (e.g., being open to only one race or gender).[6]
  • Both domestic and international adoptions have similar total costs, typically ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, but they both have their own unique costs. For example, couples adopting internationally may have to budget for a visa, whereas couples adopting domestically may have to budget for the birth mother’s rent or medical bills.[6]
  • Although no more than 2% of Americans have actually adopted, more than 1/3 have considered it.[8]
  • Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.

    - Oprah Winfrey

  • U.S. citizens completed 19,942 international adoptions in 2007, which declined to 9,319 in 2011 as international adoptions became more restrictive.[6]
  • Couples adopting internationally may not have access to a child’s medical record, such as family medical history or possible prenatal exposures to drugs or alcohol. Couples adopting domestically are usually provided with a more detailed medical record and the social history of the birth parents.[9]
  • At the same time that the U.S. is adopting children internationally from Russia, China, and Guatemala, it is “exporting” black babies to be adopted in other countries. Most of the adopting parents are Caucasian.[5]
  • Research shows that many white Americans prefer to adopt from abroad than adopt available black babies at home. Experts note that racism, an affinity for a particular country, and a desire to help as explanations. Additionally, white couples may worry it may not be in the best interest for an African American to be raised in a white environment. Finally, white couples may not be aware that black babies are so readily available.[5]
  • Most adoption professionals agree that (all things being equal) it’s better to place an African American child with an African American family. The National Association of Black Social Workers is adamantly opposed to transracial adoptions, arguing that such adoptions are “racial genocide.”[1]
  • Little Known  Fact about Abortion
    New restrictions have slowed international adoptions
  • In May 2007, China instituted new rules for foreign adoptions. The rules include that a single woman may adopt a child but only a special needs child, and a single woman must sign an affidavit that she is not a homosexual. China prohibits adoptions to foreigners who are morbidly obese or who have facial deformities, people who have taken antidepressants for serious mental disorders in the past two years, blind applicants, or applicants who have schizophrenia or a terminal disease. Adopting couples must be married at least two years unless either person has been previously divorced; if someone has been divorced and then remarried, they aren’t eligible to adopt until five years after their second wedding. Prospective families must also have an annual income equal to $10,000 for each family member and at least $80,000 in assets.[12]
  • Although exceptions exist, American parents prefer babies to toddlers, girls to boys, and Caucasians to African Americans. Other ethnicities fall in between, depending on skin color. African American boys are at the bottom of this “ranking.”[1]
  • Those who want to adopt healthy white babies in the U.S. may wait as long as five years. The waiting time for African Americans, however, is usually weeks or months, especially for boys. The wait for biracial (black/white) babies falls in between. The waiting time for a biracial girl can be more than a year.[1]
  • Adopting a white baby costs more than adopting a black or biracial one. The cost for Caucasian babies can be as high as $40,000. For biracial babies, the cost is about $18,000. For African American newborns, the cost ranges from $10,000-$12,000.[1]
  • There are more orphans globally than the population of UK and France combined.[8]
  • In most states, open adoptions are not legally enforceable. Only seven states legally enforce them: California, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington.[1]
  • If one family in every three churches in the U.S. adopted a child, every child in need of a family in the U.S. would be adopted.[8]
  • Today, almost 60%-70% of domestic adoptions are now open adoptions, which means there is a degree of openness and disclosure of information between two sets of parents and the adopted child.[1]
  • Sometimes a black birth mother prefers having her child adopted overseas because she believes there is significantly less prejudice there than in the U.S.[1]
  • Around 7 million Americans are adopted persons.[3]
  • Interesting Facts about Adoption
    Approximately 7 million people in America are adopted

  • There are two children orphaned in Asia for every child born in the U.S.[8]
  • Around 140,000 children are adopted by American families each year.[3]
  • Nearly 100 million Americans have adoption in their immediate family, whether this includes adopting, placing, or being adopted.[3]
  • In 2011, Americans adopted the highest number of children from China, followed by Ethiopia, Russian, South Korea, and Ukraine. U.S. families adopted more than 9,000 children that year.[14]
  • After rising for decades, overseas adoptions to the U.S. have dropped nearly half since 2004. The decline is due to rising regulations and growing sentiment in countries, such as Russia and China, against sending orphans abroad.[12]
  • Russia passed a bill banning adoptions to the U.S. by 2014.[12]
  • Many of the top sending countries to the United States in the last 15 years—such as Guatemala, Nepal, and Vietnam—have halted or suspended adoptions because of concerns about kidnapping and corruption.[12]
  • A law professor at Samford University in Alabama adopted a pair of children from India in 1998 only to discover that they were stolen from their mother.[4]
  • Before it closed adoptions in 2008, Guatemala sent one in every 100 children born for adoption abroad.[12]
  • Interesting Orphan Fact
    Children who are raised in orphanages have an IQ 20 points lower than that of children in foster care
  • Children who are raised in orphanages have an IQ 20 points lower than that of children in foster care.[14]
  • The highest adoption rate ever recorded was South Korea in 1985, when 1.3 of every 100 children born were sent abroad for adoption.[12]
  • In an attempt to regulate international adoptions, many countries ratified the Hague Adoption Convention, which tries to avoid trafficking and to make it easier for children to have their citizenship finalized in their new countries. It also says that every attempt should be made to place children in their own country before an international adoption is considered.[12]
  • UNICEF estimates that there are 151 million children who have lost at least one parent worldwide and 18 million who have lost both parents.[12]
  • Around the world, more children are living in foster care or institutions than there are children being adopted. Most of these children are older, have special needs, or are not the healthy infants many adoptive parents want.[12]
  • In 2012, the Korean National Assembly implemented the Special Adoption Law, which explicitly discourages sending children abroad. Under the law, birth mothers must nurse babies for seven days before the child can be considered for adoption. Additionally, a mother may choose to revoke the adoption up to 6 months after her application.[12]
  • The United States adopts more children, not only internationally but also domestically, than the rest of the world combined.[4]
  • Research suggests that a child under 3 years old should not be placed in institutional care without a parent or primary caregiver because the risk is high for developing attachment disorder, developmental delay, and neural atrophy in the developing brain.[14]
  • While adopted children constitute 2% of the child population under the age of 18, nearly 11% of all adolescents referred to therapy have been adopted.[14]
  • Interesting Eugenics Fact
    Henry Herbert Goddard (August 14, 1866 – June 18, 1957) was an American psychologist and eugenicist during the early 20th century
  • Reflecting popular eugenic ideas in America, Henry H. Goddard (1866-1957) warned against adopting children of unknown origin because they might be from poor and “degenerate stock.”[1]
  • There are about 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, which is 2% of the population, or one out of 50 children.[10]
  • Some animal communities show adoptive behavior. In the chacma baboon family, for example, infants whose mothers have died are cared for by young adults in their social groups. Their adoptive parents carry them, groom them, and protect them.[1]
  • In 2010, an American woman put her adopted 7-year-old son on a plane back to Russia with a letter citing “severe psychopathic issues.” That same year, an American woman left twins she had adopted from Russia on a freezing Russian street with a note saying she didn’t want them anymore. These cases sparked outrage and caused a diplomatic row between Russia and the U.S.[11]
  • The number of adoptions each year has not been compiled comprehensively since 1992. While there are reporting mechanisms, states are not legally required to record the number of private, domestic adoptions.[9]
  • Almost half of the children adopted internationally are infants, compared with 2% of the children adopted from domestic foster care.[1]
  • Between 1971 and 2001, U.S. citizens adopted 265,677 children from other continents, including China (156,491); Europe (50,346); South America (28,438); North America—such as Canada, Central America, Mexico, and Caribbean Islands (28,092); Africa (1,991); and Australia & the Pacific Islands (319).[4]
  • Closed adoption is when the birth parents remain anonymous. Open adoption is becoming more common and occurs when the adoptees meet and sometimes stay in touch with the birth parents, usually the birth mother.[1]
  • Requirements for prospective adoptive parents vary depending on the type of adoption and the agency involved. Child Welfare Information Gateway provides links to summaries of state adoption laws and other relevant legal info.[1]
  • An adoption home study (or family profile) is usually required for an adoption. This is an applicant profile written by a social worker and is designed to help applicants assess if adoption is right for them and understand the type of child whose needs they could meet. Composing a home study could take anywhere from 2-10 months, depending on the type of adoption and waiting lists.[1][13]
  • LGBT adoption refers to children who are adopted by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The legal status of LGBT adoption varies by jurisdiction.[1]
  • Perhaps the earliest known adoption is mentioned in the Bible when the Pharaoh’s daughter “adopted” the baby Moses.[1]
  • Interesting Bible Fact
    The story of Moses is one of the earliest accounts of adoption

  • There are three main categories of adoption in the U.S.: 1) the adoption of children from the public care system, 2) the domestic adoption of infants who reside in the U.S. and are adopted through private adoption agencies or independently (depending on state law), and 3) intercountry adoptions of infants and children from other countries by U.S citizens.[1]
  • One of the earliest laws regarding adoption is the Code of Hammurabi, which explains the rights of adopters and the responsibilities of adopted individuals. In Rome, the Codex Justinianus explains the laws of adoption.[1]
  • While modern adoption tends to favor creating stable family structures for often homeless or needy children, ancient adoption practices emphasized the political and economic interests of the adopter. It was more a legal tool and political tool that created ties between wealthy families and created male heirs to manage estates.[1]
  • In contrast to Western adoption in antiquity, which helped further family ties, adoption in the East was designed more to ensure the continuity of cultural and religious practices.[1]
  • In contrast to the Roman tradition of adopting a male to create a peaceful transition of power, in the Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic cultures after the fall of the Roman Empire, a ruling dynasty simply was replaced if a natural born heir was not available. Adoption was widely denounced, and infant adoption was rare. In fact, abandoned children were turned more often into slaves.[1]
  • The first modern adoption law was enacted in 1851 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The law marked a shift from viewing an adopted child as an “indentured servant” to viewing him or her as a protected member of society.[1]
  • From 1945-1974, adoption became more popular as illegitimate births rose three-fold and conservative sexual mores were changing. Additionally, science began stressing nurture over genetics, which challenged previous eugenic stigmas.[1]
  • During WWII, an estimated 200,000 Polish children with Aryan traits were forcibly removed from their families and given to German or Austrian couples. Only 25,000 were returned to their families after the war.[1]
  • Interesting History of Adoption Fact
    Polish children were forcibly put up for adoption during WW II

  • In some U.S. states, “safe haven laws” allow infants to be left anonymously at hospitals, fire departments, or police stations within a few days of birth. Some adoption advocacy organizations view these laws as dangerous and retrograde.[1]
  • The number of adoptions in the U.S. reached its peak in 1970. Adoption numbers decreased after 1970 for several reasons, including declining fertility rates, introduction of the birth control pill, legalization of artificial birth control methods, better family planning services to young and low-income women, and the legalization of abortion.[1]
  • Reasons besides infertility that lead people to adopt are many, including compassion, to avoid contributing to the overpopulation of the planet, to avoid passing on inheritable disease, and health concerns about pregnancy and childbirth.[1]
  • Women who adopt are usually currently married, have impaired fertility, are childless, and are in their early 40s.[1]
  • Embryo adoption is when embryos are given to another individual or couple to be implanted in the recipient woman’s uterus. In contrast to traditional adoptions, embryo adoption is governed by property law rather than court systems.[1]
  • Adoption disruption occurs when an adoption is terminated, whether before the adoption is finalized or after. Between 10% and 25% of adoptions disrupt before they are legally finalized and 1%-10% are disrupted afterward. Research is scarce, but it is known that older children’s adoptions are more likely to be disrupted.[1]
  • Studies show that adoptive families report more happiness when the adoptive relationships have similar likes, personality, and appearance.[1]
  • One study showed that parents who adopt invest more time in their children than other parents to “compensate for the lack of biological ties and the extra challenges of adoption.”[1]
  • Interesting Genealogy Fact
    Researchers suggest viewing genealogy as an orchard rather than a tree.
  • Because lessons in school that highlight “family trees” may be hurtful to children who were adopted and may not know their biological information, researchers have suggested focusing on a “family orchard.”[1]
  • Adopting older children may present unique parenting issues, such as dealing with “disorganized attachment,” which is associated with a number of problems such as dissociative symptoms, depression, and anxiety.[1]
  • The Colorado Adoption Project examined genetic influences on adoptees and found that in early childhood, children were more similar to their adoptive parents than biological parents. However, in adolescence, their cognitive abilities were more similar to their biological parents.[1]
  • While research shows that adolescent adoptees are at a greater risk of suicide and behavior disorders, young adult adoptees were just as well adjusted as adults from biological families and scored better than children who were raised in alternative families, such as single-parent and step families.[1]
  • White adolescents are more likely to give up their children to non-relatives. Black adolescents are more likely to get support from their immediate family and extended family members are more likely to informally adopt their baby.[1]
  • For teenagers, the decision to give their child up for adoption is significantly influenced by the teenager’s mother. Pregnant adolescents who have mothers with a higher education are more likely to give their baby up for adoption.[1]
  • Teenagers who give their babies up for adoption are more likely to be enrolled in school, younger, and have lived in a two-parent household at age 10 than those who keep and raise their babies.[1]
  • The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act allows the tribe and family of a Native American child to be involved in adoption decisions and preference.[1]
  • The time between the 1950s and 1970s was called the “baby scoop era” in which unwed mothers were coerced to give up their babies, as detailed in the 2006 book The Girls Who Went Away.[1]
  • Terms used to describe adoption are often charged and have changed to be less offensive. For example, terms such as “natural mother” or “first mother” have been changed to “birth mother.”[1]
  • Random Adoption Fact
    The number of orphans in sub-Sahara Africa has reached crisis proportions
  • There are more orphans in Sub-Sahara Africa than children in Denmark, Norway, Canada, and Sweden combined.[8]
  • A 2008 study revealed that the odds of having an ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder diagnosis were nearly twice as high in adoptees compared with non-adoptees.[9]
  • Some parents who adopt suffer post-adoptive depression syndrome, which is like postpartum depression for adoptive parents.[1]
  • Research has revealed correlations between an adoptee’s weight and his biological parents’ BMI but little or no relationship with the adoptive family’s weight class.[1]
  • In case of parental divorce, studies show that biological children are more likely to respond negatively than children who were adopted.[1]
  • In Iran, a country where Shi’ite Muslims predominate, adoption is allowed. However, most Sunni Muslims do not allow adoption.[1]
  • Ancient Romans practiced two types of adoptions: adrogatio and adoptio. Adrogatio usually referred to the adoption of an adult male who became the legal heir of the adopter. In contrast, adoptio was the process by which a minor child became a legal heir and dependent on the adoptive parent.[1]
  • In Roman law, only men were allowed to adopt until A.D. 291. After that, women were allowed to adopt in special circumstances—for example, if she lost a biological child.[1]
  • Because the English law of inheritance heavily emphasized natural bloodlines, little or no provisions were made for a family name to “live on” through adoption. Abandoned children were at risk of being used by beggars who often mutilated the abandoned child so that he or she could be more effectively used as a beggar.[1]
  • In the early 20th century, unwed mothers routinely advertised their children for sale in newspapers, and there was little or no protection for the children.[1]
  • Scary Amelia Dyer Fact
    Amelia Elizabeth Dyer (1837 – 10 June 1896) was one of the most notorious serial-killers in history, murdering infants in her care over a 20-year period
  • Because adoption in England was discouraged, “baby farmers” cropped up during the late Victorian era before foster care and adoptions were regulated by British law. Baby farmers would take the babies of unwed mothers for a lump sum with the promise of providing the child a loving home. Because it was more profitable if the baby died, some baby farmers murdered the children. Two infamous British baby farmers were Margaret Waters (1835-1870) and Amelia Dyer (1837-1896). Together, these two women were responsible for at least 400 murders.[1]
  • In the early 20th century, five states (Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina) passed laws requiring birth mothers to parent their infants for a minimum of 3-6 months.[1]
  • In the 1930s, states began to pass laws to seal the birth certificates of adopted children. This was to protect the adoptive family so that the birth mothers wouldn’t come back and make demands on them.[1]
  • In the 1930s, both new child labor laws and G. Stanley Hall’s theories of child psychology revolutionized child adoptions. Specifically, they helped shift adoption from a way to procure cheap labor to a way for a child to be placed into a loving family.[1]
  • The Colonial Orphan Asylum founded in 1836 was the first orphanage for black children and the predecessor of the Harlem-Dowling Children’s service agency in NYC, which still exists today. This orphanage is remarkable because many of the protective laws for children and children charities at the time were centered on white people, with few provisions for black orphans.[1]
  • A Timeline History of Adoption in the U.S.[1]
    1693The first recorded legal adoption in the colonies occurs when Governor Sir William Phips of Massachusetts adopted his son.
    1729The first U.S. orphanage is opened in Natchez, Mississippi, and is run by Ursuline nuns.
    1851Massachusetts passes the first modern adoption law. It is an important turning point because it recognizes adoption as a social and legal process based on a child’s welfare rather than on adult interest.
    1854Charles Loring Brace makes the “Orphan Train” movement national. He hopes to send urban orphans to “kind Christian homes” in the country. During the next 65 years, an estimated 150,000 street children are transferred to the Midwest, West, and South.
    1891Michigan becomes the first state to pass a law requiring the investigation of adoptive parents.
    1917The first laws requiring the sealing of adoption records are passed in Minnesota.
    1929After 75 years, the “Orphan Train” movement ends.
    1933Edna Gladney successfully lobbies to have references to “illegitimacy” removed from birth certificates in Texas.
    1960Pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle is approved to sell the first birth control pill, which dramatically affects the number of babies available for adoption.
    1961The Immigration and Nationality Act incorporates provisions for orphans adopted from foreign countries by American citizens.
    1968New York becomes the first state to provide an assistance program for children waiting to be adopted.
    1971The Adoptees Liberty Movement Association is founded to help adoptees and birth parents find each other. The Adoption Listing Service in Illinois becomes the first agency to use photo listings to promote adoption of older children.
    1972The National Association of Black Social Workers issues a public resolution opposing transracial adoption.
    1973Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion.
    1976Social workers Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor advocate for “open adoption,” where birth parents and adoptive parents meet each other.
    1978The Indian Child Welfare Act is passed, which mandates that a child’s nation or the Bureau of Indian Affairs must be notified before a Native American child is placed for adoption.
    1980The National Council for Adoption is formed to promote high standards in adoption procedures and provide information on adoption.
    1981Rev. George M. Clements in Chicago founds the “One Church, One Child” movement to recruit black adoptive parents for black children through churches.
    1993The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is passed. It sets uniform standards for the protection of adopted children.

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