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Surprises in landmark U.S. adoption survey

/ Source: The Associated Press

The first federal survey of both men and women on adoption challenges some stereotypes and offers some surprising findings:

  • Minority women are trying to adopt at a higher rate than white women.
  • Only 1 percent of single women put their babies up for adoption.
  • Men adopt at twice the rate women do, but most of those are adopting their stepchildren.

The results from the report issued Thursday contradict beliefs about the most common adoption scenarios, said the author, Jo Jones of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The perception is it's a childless white couple that adopts from overseas, but that's not what I found," she said.

Minority women are currently seeking to adopt children more often than white women, the survey found.

Researchers also reported that women who have never married adopt children much more often than single men do. But overall, men adopt children at more than twice the rate women do, due largely to men marrying women with children from a previous relationship.

Overall, nearly 1.3 million men had adopted a child, compared with an estimated 613,000 women.

That's not really surprising, said Jeff Katz, a consultant on adoption and foster care issues who formerly headed a Rhode Island adoption agency.

"More women get custody of children in divorce cases, so after a divorce the mom is living with her kids and she meets a man, and they get married, and he adopts her children," Katz said.

About 2.5 percent of U.S. children younger than 18 are adopted, according to the CDC, citing a 2000 statistic. That was equivalent to about 1.6 million children.

The new report is based on interviews of about 12,000 men and women from March 2002 through February 2003. The interviews were done in person at participants' homes.

The government has periodically surveyed women about adoption since the early 1970s, but not men.

"This is the very first national data we've had on men's lifetime adoption experiences," said Jones, a statistician with the CDC's national Center for Health Statistics.

Adoption is rare, the survey found. Among women aged 18 to 44, only about 1 percent had adopted children. About 2.3 percent of men that age had ever adopted.

Among singles, an estimated 100,000 women and 73,000 men had adopted.

Katz said that the supply and demand issues pointed out by the paper are the most interesting.

Situations in which young pregnant women decide to put their children up for adoption are becoming increasingly rare. Before 1973, nearly 9 percent of births to never-married women were given up for adoption. By 2002, that statistic had dropped to about 1 percent.

The number of children adopted from other countries increased from about 7,000 in 1990 to more than 19,000 in 2001. That means about 16 percent of the 120,000 annual adoptions in the United States in that latest year were of children from other nations.

About 50,000 children are adopted through foster care annually in the United States. It's hard to predict if that number will go up, experts said.