Demographics of Adoptive Parents
We learned a lot about the characteristics of adoptive parents in the U.S. when we conducted a nationwide survey in 2021 that garnered 4,200+ responses – the largest survey to date of this population. The results vary by type of adoption, but overall, they point us toward some important questions as we continue conversations about opportunities to improve child welfare, permanency outcomes, and adoption itself.
Adoptive parent demographics by type of adoption:
People that adopted a child from foster care had the lowest educational and household income levels, represented the highest number of parents over 60 (11% of adoptive moms and 12% of adoptive dads in this type) and slightly more than half were married at the time they adopted.
People that adopted through infant domestic adoption had the highest level of education and household income, averaged 35 years old, and 94% were married at the time they adopted.
People that adopted through intercountry adoption tended to fall somewhere in the middle, but generally leaned more towards the characteristics of parents who adopted an infant domestically in demographics of age, marital status, education and household income levels.
What was consistent about the experiences and characteristics of adoptive parents across the board?
- They perceived the cost of adoption to be a barrier when considering adoption.
- They often adopt more than once.
- They described their feelings about their choice to adopt as highly positive.
“The adoption process is stressful and financially draining but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.” - survey respondent
Demographic differences between adoptive parents and average Americans:
Adoptive parents have much higher education levels than the average American adult.
The majority of adoptive parents have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a large percentage having earned advanced degrees. However, the majority is far smaller in adoptions from foster care where more than a third of survey respondents have just an associate’s degree or less.
Adoptive parents have relatively larger household income levels than the average U.S. household.
Although income levels do vary widely and correlations can be seen by type of adoption, well over half of adoptive households in our survey earn $75,000+ annually.
Nearly 43% of people that adopted from foster care had a household income under $75,000, compared to just 25% of people who adopted infants domestically.
And just 15% of people who adopted from foster care had a household income over $125,000 compared to 30% who adopted through intercountry adoption and 35% who adopted infants domestically.
This leads us to ask…
Why are those with higher household income levels less likely to adopt from foster care?
If we believe that a diverse pool of families strengthens opportunities for the best match possible for an infant, child, or youth, then how can we help families with lower household incomes to overcome the barrier of adoption costs or parenting resources so they can pursue all types of adoption?
People who adopt from foster care are older than the average American parent when a child joins their family.
Kinship adoptions are far more common in adoptions from foster care than any other type, and many of those families are “grand families,” so it’s not surprising to see a higher population of older people in this group of adoptive parents. It’s also important to keep in mind that the kids themselves are often older, already teenagers in many cases.
While there are many positive things about grandparent adoptions, there can also be some real challenges, including financial strains that older adults on a fixed-income may have. It can also be difficult to navigate relational changes as grandparents adjust to new dynamics with their children and grandchildren.
Marital Status – Far fewer unmarried women adopt than lead family households in the U.S.
According to the latest Census, more than 50% of U.S. family households are led by single women and yet just 6.8% of people who adopted through private domestic adoption and 12.8% who adopted internationally, were unmarried at the time of adoption. Given international eligibility restrictions and anecdotal trends it’s safe to assume that nearly all of these were by unmarried women. According to AFCARS, 28% of adoptions from foster care went to single parents.
With thousands of children waiting for families, we should ensure we are eliminating all barriers preventing safe, loving parents from adoption. By recruiting and supporting a broader spectrum of Americans to pursue adoption, we can reduce the number of children waiting on a family.