Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Development and Family Studies

Department name when degree awarded

Family, Consumer, and Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Brent C. Miller


Brent C. Miller


Maria Norton


Tim Slocum


Adoption has been seen as a good solution for providing each party involved in the traditional adoption (i.e. , young birth parents, infants, and infertile couples) with a positive outcome. Adoptions, however, are generally more complex and diverse than supposed. Variables such as age of placement, levels of abuse and neglect, and foster care have been shown to place adopted children at risk for later struggles and challenges. Research studying outcomes of adopted young adults and their formation of heterosexual relations has been very limited.

Most adoption studies have focused their attention on young school-age or teenage children, or on adopted adults trying to find their biological parents. It has only been in the last few years that research has begun to focus attention on adopted youth and young adults and their transition to intimate relationships.

This study uses data collected in Wave III by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The Add Health Wave III sample consisted of 15,170 young adults, of which 487 were verified as being adopted. Abuse and neglect were looked and in conjunction with adoption in order to identify potential confounds to explain potential adoption effects. Adopted and non-adopted groups were compared along with abused and neglected groups using standardized mean differences, t tests, logistic regression and polytomous logistic regression in order to determine the effects of adoption and abuse and neglect on several heterosexual relationship outcome variables.

The present study provides support for four conclusions about comparisons between adopted and non-adopted young adults' heterosexual relationships. First, adoption by itself has a small but significant effect upon sex and cohabitation variables, but has little impact upon violence and satisfaction in relationships. Second, the age at which a person is adopted seems to have little or no effect upon any of the sex, cohabitation, relationship violence, or satisfaction variables. Third, a history of abuse and neglect in childhood has a small but significant effect upon most sex and cohabitation variables, with a larger effect upon variables dealing with relationship violence and satisfaction. Fourth, the combination of adoption and abuse shows the largest effects on all intimate relationship variables.

Findings indicate that adoption does not have as great an impact on relationship variables as theorized. Abuse and neglect seem to play a much larger role in negative heterosexual relationship outcomes.