Families have always been more diverse than suggested by monolithic images of “The Family.” Nevertheless, different family types are currently demanding social recognition to an unprecedented extent.1 While often overlooked in the context of family diversity, adoptive families are a unique addition to this heterogeneous family landscape. According to the Census 2000 report on adopted children and stepchildren, the first census in fifty years to include data on adoption, approximately 2.1 million adopted children are currently living in American households.2 Although comprehensive national-level data are missing, the total number of adopted adults and their parents is of course much larger. The impact of adoptive families on cultural definitions of family and kinship is also more profound than mere numbers would indicate.
Adoption challenges the dominant cultural belief that the best and strongest family relationships are necessarily based on blood. Adoptive families also constitute a highly diverse group, representing a microcosm of the kinds of diversity that characterize American society as a whole. Adoptive families come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. They may be labeled minority families and can encompass members of different ethnic and racial groups. Adopted siblings might trace their cultural heritage to multiple nations. Adoptive families can be headed by one parent or two, by fathers and/or mothers who may or may not be heterosexual. Adoptive families can experience divorce and be stepfamilies.
Although Census 2000 did not distinguish between public and private adoptions, it has been estimated that by 2001, almost 40 percent were arranged through public agencies and 46 percent were either handled by private agencies, were independently arranged, or were adoptions by a relative. The majority were stepparent adoptions.3 Currently, over 15 percent of adoptions are international, and 13 percent of the adopted children included in the census sample were born in countries other than the United States (48 percent were born in Asia, 33 percent in