A Historical Analysis of the Presentation of Abortion and Adoption in Marriage and Family Textbooks: 1950-1987

Article excerpt

This paper is a content analysis of the depiction of abortion and adoption in 62 marriage and family textbooks published from 1951 through 1987. Findings document that the differential constructions of abortion and adoption are long-standing features of textbooks: Books devote more attention to abortion than to adoption, and cast abortion as a macro, societal issue while depicting adoption as a micro issue. Thematic analysis suggests the influence of societal events, such as legalization of abortion, and of a legacy of a structural-functional theoretical orientation in family studies. Implications for teaching as well as for future research are discussed.

Since its inception, the field of marriage and family studies has focused on the formation, operation, and dissolution of "the family" as a social unit. One aspect of this general topic concerns the alternatives available to individuals and couples regarding pregnancy. The first decision is to parent or not; when a decision is made not to parent, the two most common options are to abort and to relinquish the child for adoption. Abortion and adoption tend to be paired in discussions about pregnancy resolution not only in other research (Stolley & Hall, 1994) but also in general discussions. We find in our classes, for example, that discussions about the right to legal access to abortion often incorporate adoption as "the" option that can, or to some should, be substituted for abortion when parenting the child is not chosen.

This research examines how marriage and family studies discuss the two nonparenting pregnancy-resolution options of abortion and adoption. Specifically, we performed a content analysis of the presentation of abortion and adoption in a sample of 62 marriage and family textbooks that span four decades from the 1950s through the 1980s. We are interested in textbooks because they capture the current paradigms of a discipline (Kuhn, 1970). "While textbooks ordinarily do not represent an outlet for new knowledge, they do give an indication of the state of the field's development" at a given time (Klein & Smith, 1985, p. 211). Even in a multi-dimensional field such as family studies, textbooks that survey the field for novice students provide an encapsulated codification of the primary theories, concepts, topics, and research findings. Research on marriage and family textbooks has documented the selective presentations of various social issues (Spanier & Stump, 1978), including abortion and adoption (Stolley & Hall, 1994), Black families (Bryant & Coleman, 1988), stepfamilies (Nolan, Coleman, & Ganong, 1984; Coleman, Ganong, & Goodwin, 1994), incest (Marciano, 1982), and the elderly (Dressel & Avant, 1978; Stolley & Hill, 1996). As educators we need to identify the selective construction of social issues in textbooks before we can adequately evaluate the implications of the "knowledge" that is provided on these issues to our students.

We engage in a historical analysis for three reasons. First, historical analysis allows us to trace the development of particular constructions of abortion and adoption already identified in current textbooks (Stolley & Hall, 1994). Their study found that "abortion and adoption are presented in different ways and as different problems and solutions" (p. 272) in 27 marriage and family textbooks published from 1988 through 1993. In brief, discussions of abortion received greater coverage than adoption, emphasized a macro-level perspective, and omitted women's voices about their experiences. In contrast, adoption was primarily treated at the micro level, particularly in terms of the interests of adoptive parents, without addressing the social context in which individuals in the adoptive triangle operated. Thus, we ask if family studies has consistently applied a macro focus to the discussion of abortion and a micro focus to adoption over time or only recently?

Second, historical analysis is well suited to the examination of changing theoretical orientations in family studies. …