Aug. 7, 2008 -- Men are twice as likely as women to adopt a child, the CDC's latest adoption figures show.
There are a number of surprises in the CDC data, which come from 2002-2003 interviews with a nationally representative sample of 12,571 U.S. residents aged 15 to 44.
It's the first time the CDC collected adoption data from men. Those data yield the study's most surprising finding: 2.3% of American men -- but only 1.1% of women -- have ever adopted a child. It punctures an American myth, says study author Jo Jones, PhD, a statistician for the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
"Folklore tells us it is the childless couples, or the women who want more children in the house, who seek adoption," Jones tells WebMD. "This tells us there is another face of adoption. It is more complex than we had thought."
Why might men adopt more often than women? Jones points to divorce arrangements. Children of divorced parents usually live with their mothers. When men and women remarry, men are more likely than women to adopt children that come into the household.
Another point of view comes from Kim M. Hober, LMSW, an obstetric social worker at New York's University of Rochester Medical Center. For 20 years, Hober has worked with women who place children for adoption.
"We've seen an increase in same-sex couples adopting, and this is a trend all over the country," Hober tells WebMD. "If you think about same-sex couples, gay men who want children really have to adopt, but gay women can have their own children. I don't see as many gay female couples adopting as gay male couples."
That's certainly part of the story, Jones agrees.
The proportion of never-married men and women who adopt is high. About 100,000 never-married women and 73,000 never-married men had adopted children by 2002," she says. "It is not just white married couples who are adopting children."
Indeed, black Americans are proportionately more likely to adopt than are white Americans.
But the male/female adoption disparity is complex. Despite cultural trends toward adoption by gay men, men who have never been married are far less likely to have adopted a child than are currently or formerly married men.
And here's another interesting statistic: Men who adopt are more likely to have fathered a child than men who do not adopt. For the other sex, it's the other way around: Women who have never had a child are more likely to adopt than are those who have given birth.
Ideal Adoption, Real Adoption
The CDC survey asked women seeking to adopt what they wanted in a child. The preferred child is younger than 2 years old, free of disabilities, and is an only child. Women would prefer to adopt a girl rather than a boy.
But most of these adoption-seeking women weren't fussy. Nearly 90% said they'd accept a child with a mild disability, 79% would accept a child 2 to 5 years old, and 75% would accept a set of siblings.
Race is not a major issue for most of these women. Among white adoption seekers, 84% would accept a black child and 95% would accept a child of a race neither black nor white. Among black adoption seekers, 75% would accept a white child and 93% would accept a child of a race neither black nor white.
Even so, two-thirds of women would not accept a child aged 13 years or older or a child with a severe disability.
And adoption preferences do play a role. There are virtually no healthy, newborn children waiting to be adopted. But in 2002, 124,000 American children in foster care waited to be adopted. The mean age of these children is 8.5 years, and they've been living in foster care for three years on average.
"Because the characteristics of children that women and couples seek to adopt ... may not correspond to the characteristics of children in the foster care system, women and couples may seek children from outside the foster care system to adopt," Jones notes in her report.
Yet Americans do adopt more than 50,000 foster-care children each year.
Many other would-be parents look for infants from other nations. The number of international adoptions nearly tripled from 7,093 in 1990 to 19,237 in 2002.
Overall, there are between 118,000 and 127,000 adoptions each year in the U.S. As of 2000, 65.6 million children under age 18 -- about 2.5% of U.S. kids -- are adopted.