Penelope L. Maza, “Adoption Trends: 1944-1975”

For over 30 years the Federal Government collected and published information on adoption in the United States. Because the information is located in over 20 documents and very few copies of these documents are accessible to the general public, this research note compiles selected information from these documents.

Information on adoptions in the United States from 1944 through 1975 was collected and published by the Children's Bureau and the National Center for Social Statistics. The reporting system which provided the data base for these reports involved the voluntary cooperation of the States and territories utilizing court records. A high of 52 States and territories participated in the reporting system in 1961, 1962 and 1964. A low of 22 States participated in the reporting system in 1944. (See Table 1.)

The estimated total number of adoptions ranged from a low of 50,000 in 1944 to a high of 175,000 in 1970. (See Table 1.) The proportion of adoptions by related individuals steadily increased during this period until they constituted over 60% of all adoptions by 1975. (See Table 2.) This increase in the portion of adoptions by relatives continues a trend noted by Zarefsky when examining data from six States from 1934 and 1944. These data indicated the percentage of adoptions by related individuals had increased in the six States studied from 17% in 1934 to 41% in 1944.

The proportional increase in adoptions by related petitioners between 1944 and 1970 appears to be more a function of the decline in the estimated number of adoptions by unrelated petitioners than a function of an increase in the estimated number of adoptions by related petitioners. The number of adoptions by unrelated petitioners declined from a high of 89,200 in 1970 to 47,700 in 1975, while the number of adoptions by related petitioners remained between 81,000 and 89,000 during this period. (See Table 2.)

Between 1951 and 1975 the percentage of adoptive placements not made under agency auspices (i.e. independent adoptions) declined substantially from 53% of all adoptions in 1951 to 23% of all adoptions in 1975. The lowest percentage was in 1971 and 1972 when independent adoptions constituted only 21% of all reported adoptions.

This decline corresponded with the period when professional groups such as the Child Welfare League of America and maternity home groups highlighted some of the difficulties with independent adoptions. In addition, during the early 1950's Senator Kefauver conducted hearings which explored black market adoptions. The activities of professional groups and the Kefauver Hearings stimulated professionals in public and private agencies to reach out to provide a variety of services to birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. States responded to these activities by clarifying regulations as to who may place a child for adoption. Consequently, between 1951 and 1975 the percentage of adoptive placements by public agencies more than doubled form 18% in 1951 to 39% in 1975, while the pecentage of adoptions by private agencies increased from 29% in 1951 to 38% in 1975. The highest percentage for private agencies was 45% in 1970.

It is interesting to note that this period of decline in the percentage of independent adoptions coincided with the increase in the percentage of adoptions by related petitioners. Since almost all adoptions by related petitioners are handled independently, it is likely that by the 1970's a substantial proportion of the remaining independence adoptions were by related petitioners.

Current data collection activities related to adoption focus on children primarily being placed from public foster care systems. The data collection is conducted under the auspices of the American Public Welfare Association through the Voluntary Cooperative Information System. The data collection is now in its second year of operation. The recent Child Welfare Indicator Survey developed estimates concerning children in adoptive placement. According to that survey approximately 50,000 in the public foster care system were free for adoption in December, 1982. Of those children approximately 17,000 were in adoptive placements and the remaining 33,000 were still waiting for an adoptive home. There are no on-going data collection activities focused on children who are solely the responsibility of the private agencies or placed independently.

Table I: National Estimates: Total Number of Adoptoins—1944 to 1975

Year

Number of States Reporting

Reported Total

Estimated Total

1944

22

16,000

50,000

1951

33

36,732

72,000*

1955

39

54,589

93,000

1957

46

71,934

91,000

1958

47

76,095

96,000

1959

47

82,537

102,000

1960

50

95,682

107,000

1961

52

108,733

114,000

1962

52

117,662

121,000

1963

50

122,944

127,000

1964

52

133,106

135,000

1965

51

139,222

142,000

1966

51

148,995

152,000

1967

51

154,166

158,000

1968

48

155,734

166,000

1969

49

161,295

171,000

1970

49

163,231

175,000

1971

50

159,844

169,000

1972

37

99,552

153,000*

1973

41

112,849

148,000*

1974

41

107,874

138,000*

1975

40

104,188

129,000*

* Indicates estimates developed by the author. All other estimates were developed at the time the data were published.

Table 2: National Estimates: Relatoinship of the Petitioner to the Adopted Child—1944 to 1975

Year

Estimated Total

Unrelated Petitioners

Related Petitioners

Percentage Unrelated Petitioners

Percentage Related Petitioners

1934

NA

NA

NA

83%**

17%**

1944

50,000

NA

NA

59%**

41%**

1951

72,000*

33,800*

38,200*

47%

53%

1955

93,000

48,400*

44,600*

52%

48%

1957

91,000

48,200

42,800

53%

47%

1958

96,000

50,900

45,100

50%

50%

1959

102,000

54,100

47,900

53%

47%

1960

107,000

57,800

49,200

54%

46%

1961

114,000

61,600

52,400

54%

46%

1962

121,000

62,900

58,100

52%

48%

1963

127,000

67,300

59,700

53%

47%

1964

135,000

71,600

63,400

53%

47%

1965

142,000

76,700

65,300

54%

46%

1966

152,000

80,600

71,400

53%

47%

1967

158,000

83,700

74,300

53%

47%

1968

166,000

86,300

79,700

52%

48%

1969

171,000

88,900

82,100

52%

48%

1970

175,000

89,200

85,800

51%

49%

1971

169,000

82,800

86,200

49%

50%

1972

153,000*

67,300*

85,700*

44%

56%

1973

148,000*

59,200*

88,800*

40%

60%

1974

138,000*

49,700*

88,300*

36%

64%

1975

129,000*

47,700*

81,300*

37%

63%

* Indicates estimates developed by the author. All other estimates were developed at the time the data were published.

** Based on information from six States. No National estimates are available.

NA means data are not available.

 

 

 

Source: Penelope L. Maza, “Adoption Trends: 1944-1975,” Child Welfare Research Notes #9 (U.S. Children’s Bureau, August 1984), pp. 1-4, Child Welfare League of America Papers, Box 65, Folder: “Adoption—Research—Reprints of Articles,” Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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Department of History, University of Oregon
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