In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social, Psychological, and Evolutionary Perspectives on Adoption

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Benefits of Adoption
  • Stressors, Outcomes, and Stigmas for Adoptive Parents
  • Assessment Process
  • Transracial Adoption
  • Same-Sex Couple Adoption
  • Adoption of Children with Special Needs
  • Single-Parent Adoption
  • Conclusion

Psychology Social, Psychological, and Evolutionary Perspectives on Adoption
Prarthana Franklin, Anthony Volk
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0235


Adoption is the process in which adults usually permanently, but also temporarily, care for a child that is not their biological child. Adoption differs from foster care because the latter involves shorter-term placements of a child who is a formal ward of a state or governmental agency. Adoption thus represents an interesting divergence from typical biological families because the primary evolutionary reason biological families are hypothesized to cooperate with and invest in each other is that they share genes with each other. However, adoption of genetically unrelated children is also quite prevalent across cultures. This suggests that there may be other motivations and benefits for adoptive parents, unrelated to directly propagating one’s genes, that are contributing to the prevalence of this behavior. Therefore, this article reviews related sociological, psychological, and evolutionary literature in order to provide a broad understanding of adoption.

General Overviews

As mentioned in the Introduction, the three theoretical perspectives related to adoption that we will discuss in this chapter are from sociology, psychology, and evolutionary biology. From the sociological perspective, by reporting data on perspectives on adoption in India, Bharadwaj 2003 demonstrates that an important stigma associated with adoption is infertility in the adoptive parents. Similarly, Miall 1996 discusses the social construction of and community attitudes toward adoption. Brodzinsky and Schechter 1990 is an important work on adoption from a psychological perspective. This book reviews a variety of empirical evidence associated with negative outcomes for adopted children. Specifically, this book reviews mental health outcomes and social policy issues related to adoption that help inform intervention strategies. Additionally, Smith and Brodzinsky 1994 uses a developmental perspective regarding stress and coping strategies for adopted children. Another key article that is important when considering adoption from an evolutionary perspective is Riedman 1982, which highlights the benefits of adoption and environmental pressures that influence adoption practices by examining adoption in over a hundred species. Also related to the benefits of adoption, Avital, et al. 1998 illustrates that adoption is instrumental in transferring decision-making strategies, predator avoidance, and food preferences to the adopted offspring from adoptive parents. Additionally, Franklin and Volk 2017 outlines the costs and benefits of adoption for adoptive parents, biological parents, and adopted children from an evolutionary perspective. Finally, Brodzinsky 1990 provides common historical and social explanations that underlie reasons why biological parents choose to have their children adopted.

  • Avital, E., E. V. A. Jablonka, and M. Lachmann. 1998. Adopting adoption. Animal Behaviour 55.6: 1451–1459.

    DOI: 10.1006/anbe.1998.0729

    This article examines the transference of learning behavior and social learning from adoptive parents to adopted offspring in animals.

  • Bharadwaj, A. 2003. Why adoption is not an option in India: The visibility of infertility, the secrecy of donor insemination, and other cultural complexities. Social Science & Medicine 56.9: 1867–1880.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00210-1

    This article explores some of the cultural stigma associated with adoption.

  • Brodzinsky, A. B. 1990. Surrendering an infant for adoption: The birthmother experience. In The psychology of adoption. Edited by D. M. Brodzinsky and M. D. Schechter, 295–315. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This chapter provides a historical discussion of the demographic, environmental, and other factors that may induce biological mothers to give up their children for adoption.

  • Brodzinsky, D. M., and M. D. Schechter. 1990. The psychology of adoption. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book chapter covers various psychological perspectives (e.g., clinical, mental health, social policy issues) on the outcomes for adopted children.

  • Franklin, P., and A. A. Volk. 2017. Evolutionary paradox: Adoption. In Encyclopedia of evolutionary psychological science. Edited by T. K. Shackelford and V. Weekes-Shackelford, 1–9. New York: Springer.

    This chapter lists the various evolutionary costs and benefits associated with the individuals involved in the adoption process—adoptive parents, adopted child, and biological parents—in order to assess whether or not adoption can be considered a form of altruism.

  • Miall, C. E. 1996. The social construction of adoption: Clinical and community perspectives. Family Relations 45:309–317.

    DOI: 10.2307/585503

    This study sampled 150 Canadians for their perceptions of adoption. Interestingly, in contrast to various clinical practitioners’ perspectives, the researchers found positive community perceptions of adoption. Implications for interventions are discussed.

  • Riedman, M. L. 1982. The evolution of alloparental care and adoption in mammals and birds. Quarterly Review of Biology 57.4: 405–435.

    DOI: 10.1086/412936

    This article reviews adoption practices and transmission of such behaviors in animals.

  • Smith, D. W., and D. M. Brodzinsky. 1994. Stress and coping in adopted children: A developmental study. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology 23.1: 91–99.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15374424jccp2301_11

    This article gathered data from adopted children to understand their feelings about being adopted children, the stressors related to being adopted, and their coping strategies.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.