The Benefits of Adoptive Parents: AP’s Slanted Agenda

Based on a recent study in the American Sociological Review, the media and the gay-lesbian community are celebrating the exciting new evidence that you don’t need biological parents to raise children well. Here’s the beginning of a typical story, this one from ABC News, based on the AP press release:

Adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children than biological parents, according to a new national study challenging arguments that have been used to oppose same-sex marriage and gay adoption.

The study, published in the new issue of the American Sociological Review, found that couples who adopt spend more money on their children and invest more time on such activities as reading to them, eating together and talking with them about their problems.

The story actually tells us more about AP’s agenda than about the findings of the study. While hailed as a victory for the enemies of traditional marriage, the amazing thing about this story is what the media chooses to leave out: the essence of the study points to the advantages of raising children under the traditional system of two married different-sex parents, a man legally married to a woman, free from the challenges associated with step families (could it be that divorce is harmful for kids?) or single-parenthood. Single-parent families and step-families get bad scores in the study (isn’t that worth discussing?), while children raised by an adoptive male-female married couple or by the child’s male-female biological parents both do similarly well, with an edge for adoptive parents (see discussion below). Importantly, while the authors of the study seem anxious to view their results as relevant to the same-sex marriage debate, the 161 adoptive couples in their study did not include same-sex couples.

The study is published in the Feb. 2007 issue of American Sociological Review as “Adoptive Parents, Adaptive Parents: Evaluating the Importance of Biological Ties for Parental Investment” by Laura Hamilton, Simon Cheng, and Brian Powell (vol. 72, pp. 95–116). While you can read it for yourself, here is an excerpt from the study, discussing the results:

Several predominant social scientific theories predict that the absence of biological parents or the presence of a nonbiological parent is detrimental to the normative functioning of families and the well-being of children. This prediction has public policy implications: recent court decisions rely in part on the presumed irreplaceable bond between biological parents and their children to uphold the constitutionality of laws banning same-sex marriage. Nearly all of the research supporting this claim, however, refers to differences between two-biological parent and step- or single-parent families. Here, we demonstrate that the absence of a biological tie between parents and their children does not unequivocally constitute a disadvantage in at least one key family process–the allocation of resources to young children. We find that the two-adoptive-parent family structure is remarkably similar to the two-biological-parent family structure in that it provides adoptive children an advantage over children in other alternative family structures.

Our analyses indicate that adoptive parents allocate more economic, cultural, social, and interactional resources to their children than do parents in all other family types. Their high levels of investment are due, in part, to their greater levels of income, education, and older maternal age. When these sociodemographic characteristics are controlled for, an adoptive advantage still remains. Two-adoptive-parent families invest as much and, in some cases of marginal significance, more in their children than do two-biological-parent families, holding all else equal. The adoptive advantage becomes more apparent in comparison with children from other alternative family types. Net of sociodemographic characteristics, adoptive families invest significantly more than at least one alternative family type for most resources included in our analyses. Regardless of the family types to which they are compared, two-adoptive-parents’ higher levels of investment are spread across all four types of resources.

The study is helpful for adoptive parents, and should show what ought to be common sense: love and parental commitment is far more importance than shared DNA. Further, children raised by loving father and a mother in a family based on traditional marriage, without the disadvantages of step families (sorry, but several studies confirm more difficulties from step-families than families in which both biological parents are present) or single-parent families fare better in the measures explored by this study. That’s not to say that single parents or step-families cannot compensate and be wonderful parents, but that statistically they face a disadvantage on some measures. So don’t despair!

As for the edge that the 161 adoptive families had, the authors note that a significant part of that edge came from the higher socioeconomic status of adoptive families. But even when that was accounted for, they still had an edge. I think that can be explained by the additional selective factors that limit who can adopt. Most male-female couples can have children, and quite a few do without really being ready for them or capable of being decent parents. You can create biological offspring regardless of your education, criminal record, ability to hold a job, personal hygiene habits, and anger management skills. But the standards for adoptive parents are so high and demanding that you almost need to have superhuman endurance and commitment. Adoptive parents have to want children so much that they are willing to pay many thousands of dollars, wait for years, tolerate snoopy bureaucrats investigating their lives and their worthiness to adopt, and jump through numerous other hoops. Adoptive parents belong to an elite slice of humanity with positive attributes that cannot be accounted for by simply looking at their socioeconomic status. OF COURSE adoptive parents are going to score higher on average than the rest of us.

The study of Hamilton et al. is not news – it simply provides some statistics around what ought to be common sense. And both statistics and common sense point to the benefits of having a father and a mother in a stable traditional family, whether DNA is shared or not. And most certainly the actual data of the study says nothing to justify relaxing legal definitions of marriage. The fact that most legally married male-female adoptive parents are saints provides no justification for the gay-lesbian agenda. (I would venture, though, that gay-lesbian couples who really want children and go through the adoptive process would also score highly and do a great job raising their kids, at least in terms of the metrics explored in this study – but that was not addressed due to the paucity of subjects to work with.)


Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “The Benefits of Adoptive Parents: AP’s Slanted Agenda

  1. This was not an “agenda story” (whatever that means) from ABC News – they were printing an Associated Press story. Please do not ascribe any motives to ABC News for publishing this story. Google news reveals that this story was published in at least 20 different publications, including such well known conservative publications as Forbes and the Dallas Morning News.

    I still want to know what this so-called “agenda” is. Where do they meet? Why don’t conservative Christians attend the meetings of these agenda-planners and foil whatever plot is supposedly being hatched up?

  2. It’s right there in the first paragraph quoted in the blog entry:

    “Adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children than biological parents, according to a new national study challenging arguments that have been used to oppose same-sex marriage and gay adoption.

    Their agenda was pro same-sex marriage. They were trying to use this data as evidence to oppose arguments against gay adoption. Except none of the adoptive parents in the study were gay. So I’m not really sure what they’re getting at.

  3. Funny, but my first thought is that this seems to strongly support arguments in favor of adoption as a preferred alternative to either abortion, or single teen motherhood (the approach the Church favors). From an overarching “agenda” viewpoint, the study seems to me to say a lot more about single parenthood and alternatives to abortion than it does about gay marriage. Since there were apparently no gay parent couples considered (as would have to be the case in order to control for their primary variable – natural vs. adoptive parents), logically the study does not say anything about how good or bad gay parents are compared to hetero parents – unless it is suggesting that two lesbians who adopt a child will be better parents than two lesbians who have a child through artificial insemination.

  4. I think Jeff is ascribing an agenda (which in this context means having a politically motivated desire to present selective facts–not a paper agenda presented at a meeting) to the story ABC presented, not to the study itself. So I gather from his writing

  5. I would be curious to see more about the parameters they used to gauge a “good parent” myself. As far as gay marriage goes, I look at it the same as I look at all marriage; why do we need the government to regulate and define it? Isn’t marriage something that is sacred to the individuals involved? Why do we need laws that endorse some specific definition of someone’s commitment to someone else?

    The government just needs to keep it’s nose out of marriage except in extreme cases of childhood marriage or forced marriage. If people are 18 and consenting adults what business is it of the governments what commitments they want to make?

  6. Right – it was AP that was the source of the story. It’s just that ABC News and every other major organ of the media seemed to have jumped right on board the “science supports same sex marriage” bandwagon – making this a story more about a political agenda than about real news.

  7. what business is it of the governments what commitments [people] want to make?

    Marriage involves a lot more than just consenting adults (that’s a different legal category). There are significant legal and societal rights that come with it, and (gasp) responsibilities that the participants need to be held accountable for.

    The government needs to regulate who those rights are given to for them to mean anything, as well as provide recourse (like alimony) for those who lose when those commitments are broken. Especially once you throw in the social issue of how it affects the next generation of citizens.

    That doesn’t mean we have to agree with how the government chooses to regulate marriage, but it does need to be done.

  8. “OF COURSE adoptive parents are going to score higher on average than the rest of us.”

    But they don’t really; at least not according to this study. Adoptive parents are only marginally better than biological parents when age and income are corrected for, despite the stringent screening process that adoptive parents go through.

    A real comparison would include only biological parents that would be accepted as adoptive parents if they chose to adopt.

  9. The study was funded by a gay adoption advocacy group, which I don’t recall at the time. The story has made its way through the conservative blogs. Yes, there are important elements missing considering who funded the study. The agenda being to show that adoptive parents are good parents, therefor gay adoptive parents will be good parents too. However, the study did not include gay adoptive parents in their study.

    The fact that other news organizations picked it up is rather meaningless, unless they conveniently left out who funded the study.

    >”OF COURSE adoptive parents are going to score higher on average than the rest of us.”

    In the income catagory, they probably do score quite well. The screening process is rough and very expensive and very time consuming.

    >But they don’t really; at least not according to this study. Adoptive parents are only marginally better than biological parents when age and income are corrected for, despite the stringent screening process that adoptive parents go through.

    This is because the phase of life many of these people are at. They generally late in the game at parenting, having tried many years on their own. Usually older people have more money.

    I’ve adopted 3 children. The cost is approx $80000 for them. I can’t say mine was typical as we wanted to take some children out of poor countries and that is MUCH more expensive than domestic, which I really never have figured out.

    We homeschool. That is added expense. I don’t know if we put more time in than other couples now that we have them, but we certainly did before.

  10. “…this seems to strongly support arguments in favor of adoption as a preferred alternative to either abortion, or single teen motherhood (the approach the Church favors).”

    I may be reading it wrong, but it looks like you wrote that the Church favors single teen motherhood over adoption. I just wanted to point out that at the last LDS Family Services presentation I attended (they usually do one once a year), their preferred suggestions in counseling those dealing with pregnancy out of wedlock are, in order:
    1. Marriage
    2. Adoption
    3. Single parenthood
    4. Abortion

  11. I wonder what the difference would be between a single parent household and a stepparent household. If there are significant differences in having two adults vs one if it is a stepparent role…..
    –Single mother of 2

  12. It’s absurd the way the AP spins the story and the cultural left uses what validity the study has to promote gay marriage.

    Under this logic all children should be offered up to adoption because “adopted children get more money & attention.”

    Its important that people understand that a unwanted child represents a failure of society in promoting childbearing within stable marriages. Once that unfortunate event has occurred, then and only then do try to place the child in the best possible environment.

    Within this understanding we correctly see that society must be as/more concerned with upholding marriage as the proper venue for sex and procreation as it is concerned with how children fare in adopted homes.

  13. Jeff—-

    Using the scripture as example how many step parent situations are there? Even Joseph, the husband of Mary.

  14. MJF, I like what you’ve been doing over at Opine Editorials, and have added you to my blogroll. Thanks!

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