Bryan Caplan: An Adopted Child is Second-Best

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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50 Responses

  1. Sam M says:

    I agree with you, but the fact that so many people share Caplan’s bias seems important. What immediately comes to mind for me are the stories where kids get mixed up in the hospital nursery but nobody figures it out for a few years. So you take this kid home and she’s yours and you raise her and love her. Then people realize the switcheroo and, inevitably, they end up switching the kids back. I mean, I have four kids. If someone knocked on my door today and said, “oh, hey… that kid really isn’t yours…” Would I demand to have “my” kid back? Would I give “theirs” up? This is obviously a heart-wrenching thing, and I won’t even hazard a guess about how I would react in that situation. But our views about who counts as family are obviously all wrapped up with biological issues. I am not sure if those will ever get unraveled. Or if they can.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Sam M says:

      @Sam M, You raise interesting issues, but not ones that touch on adoption. After all, no one is under any illusions that we are raising a child of our own genetic lineage. (Of our own genetic stock, however, we are: Humans are overwhelmingly similar to one another in their genes. Consider that even if we were raising a chimpanzee, the genetic material would be over 98% similar. Shouldn’t that be enough to satisfy the my-own-genes cheerleaders? But I digress.)

      When you discover a hospital-baby-switcheroo, what should control are the best interests of the child. Switching parents at five years would be traumatic, obviously. At five months, much less so. This has little to do with the institution of adoption, however.Report

  2. Freddie says:

    I have little to add to what you’ve said. Caplan’s entire little meditation on parentage and genetic determinism suggest to me that he has a common but particularly unhappy failing, which is a combination of a reductive genetic determinism married to a poor understanding of the actual genetic science that undergirds such a philosophy.

    I do want to gently suggest that perhaps “generous” isn’t always as much of a backhanded compliment, in these contexts, as you (I think rightly) identify in Caplan’s post. You and I likely approach this issue from very different perspectives, due in large part, I suspect, to differing stances towards the influence of Ayn Rand. The Randian impulse, often, is to suggest that there are strict or obvious lines between the selfish and the selfless; the better to prosecute the argument against altruism and to assert hidden selfish motives for avowedly generous acts. To my mind, it’s far more helpful to recognize that the presence of selfish motives is in no way in conflict with generally selfless goals, and I think most people experience their own impulses for charity as an inextricable combination of selfless motivation and the selfish feeling of feeling good about giving. And thank goodness, right? I think we generally consider people who take individual pleasure from being charitable to be good people.

    The question of generosity as it pertains to the rearing of children is, I think, vastly complicated, and deeply uncanny in some ways. On one level, raising any children is certainly an act of generosity; it involves a massive commitment of time, energy and resources to another human being, and that commitment is very unlikely to be entirely or mostly paid back by the child. But there is also the reality of the inherent self-interested desire to propagate one’s own DNA, and the difficult-to-enumerate compensations of parenthood (the pride, the joy, the companionship, the feeling of accomplishment, etc).

    Where I think Caplan goes wrong, and where I believe I am in complete agreement with you, is in suggesting that there is some sort of patronizing extra-generosity in raising adopted kids as compared to raising children whom you conceived genetically. It’s true that this is a common trope, but that’s little excuse.

    As I said, it’s likely that you and I will have very different visions of the whole edifice of parenthood, if I’m right in believing that we have fundamentally different ideas about the nature of selfishness and generosity.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Freddie says:

      @Freddie, I agree more than you might guess. I’d add that Rand’s formulation of egoism vs. altruism often isn’t terribly helpful because it neglects unintended consequences, both good and bad.

      For example, adopting a child marginally reduces the problem of orphaned children in society. This wasn’t our primary motivation, but it clearly was a consequence of our action. It was also a social good. Society is built and strengthened of such unintended consequences.

      Here’s where I think you err. You write, “But there is also the reality of the inherent self-interested desire to propagate one’s own DNA.”

      This, to me, makes no sense at all. It’s not self-interested to try to propagate one’s own DNA. DNA is not Self, or Soul, or Mind. It’s plain dumb codes for proteins. Many of these codes are shared identically, letter-for-letter, in virtually all human beings.

      Taken as a whole, your DNA is virtually identical to mine, and this would be true regardless of our races and ancestries. And yet our Selves are experienced as richly, wonderfully, contentiously different. We would never predict such a result from DNA. Because we cannot, I conclude that DNA isn’t the abode of the Self in any sense whatsoever.Report

      • Freddie in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, Yeah, I was unclear. I’m merely talking about the biological desire to reproduce, represented in the sex drive, not some cognitive desire to immortalize the self. Of course, there’s a whole can of worms concerning homosexual behavior (the kind observed in a great number of animal species), but in general I just mean the sex drive, the reproductive urge that makes the continuation of species possible.Report

  3. David says:

    As a parent of two adopted daughters, I can emphatically say that there was nothing noble or generous about our decision to adopt. We wanted a family and the natural way was not working for us. Our decision to adopt was about filling our selfish desires and not some altrustic act. While I agree with Freddie that a charitable act can be both selfish and selfess, there was no charitable motivation on our part in the desire to adopt. It implies that our daughters were in need of charity, when they were not. It was us that was in need of something, not them.Report

    • Todd in reply to David says:

      @David, You don’t think your daughters needed a loving family? Do you think they needed parents more or less than you needed children?Report

    • Freddie in reply to David says:

      @David, to me, this is an example of where the selfish/selfless, charity/not charity dynamic ultimately seems to boil down to semantics. I can totally understand and respect your distaste of the word “charity” to describe your relationship with your children, and your desire to avoid certain connotations with that. At the same time, I doubt you would question that your daughters had/have needs, needs that you are very happy to meet. Is that charity? Are all of the ways that they fulfill you (satisfy some of your needs) matters of charity? I don’t think it’s a productive question.

      In general, that’s my problem with getting too concerned with questions of selfishness/selflessness. What we really care about and are invested in are exactly the questions that don’t fall into a selfish/selfless binary, in my experience.Report

      • David in reply to Freddie says:


        Yes, of course my daughters have needs, but in this they are no different than any other child. And, yes, I gladly provide for them, but in this, I am no different than any other loving parent. I get excited when they excel at something, I stay up late worringy when they are sick, I hold them when they cry, and I gladly play with them. Why do I do these things–because they are my daughters and I am their father. The point is that my desire to be a parent was no more noble or generous than anyone else’s desire to parent.Report

        • Freddie in reply to David says:

          I see what you mean, and that’s exactly what I find offensive about Caplan’s (and many people’s) vision of adopting children being inherently more generous than conceiving children yourself. I agree completely that there’s nothing more generous or charitable about raising adopted children.Report

  4. Todd says:

    Jason, I guess I’m a little confused: on the one hand, you suggest that adoptive parents are willing to subject themselves to significant hardship to get what they want that will also benefit many others. Is noble really such an awful word to describe that if it is not exactly the right word? As to generosity, are adoptive parents instead to be viewed as stingy in some sense? Should philanthropist who reap enormous psychic gains from their donations be regarded as cheapskates? I’m not accustomed to thinking of noble and generous as insults, and the vehemence with which you responded to Caplan seems a bit out of place. What’s so bad about being characterized as a good person?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Todd says:


      It becomes an insult when viewed alongside Bryan’s prior claims. Namely, that raising a child who is genetically your own is most valuable. (So valuable, in fact, that he’d gladly evict his wife’s DNA from all his future kids.)

      Now, this is a very strange claim — if you don’t like that woman’s DNA, why did you marry her? — but even apart from that, my argument here is that adoptive parents want to raise a kid, a goal that is hard to analyze in selfish/unselfish terms, as we’re currently chewing. But if they were able to meet their goal without (so nobly!) helping an orphan, many such parents would very likely do so.Report

  5. ThatPirateGuy says:

    ‘Or did he just recycle the same glurge I always get from casual acquaintances when I tell them that I adopted a daughter? (“Oh wow, that’s so great of you. Tell me though, why didn’t you get a surrogate mom?”)’

    People really say this to you? When I read that I was stunned that this thought not only occurred to people but that they actually said it. In retrospect my experience and knowledge of people makes it not at all shocking, but that doesn’t change my initial shock at the rudeness and foolishness of the question.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:


      I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why we didn’t get a surrogate mother. It’s a funny question, because from one frame of reference — in which the process is divorced from the kid — it sounds perfectly harmless. But in another frame of reference — where the kid is emergent from the process — it’s pretty rude.

      People also ask me “where did she come from?” — with the expected response that she’s from some picturesque foreign country.

      The truth is that no foreign countries allow gay men from the United States to adopt anymore. (At least not above-board… if you’re closeted about it, you might do better, but I wouldn’t advise it.)

      So we got our daughter from the exotic eastern shore of Maryland, about 45 minutes from our house, where kids need stable homes, too.Report

    • @ThatPirateGuy,

      Read contributor Dan’s blog, and you’ll see the occasional post by Elizabeth. Here’s one germane to this comment that will boggle your mind:

      People really do say the most outlandish things.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    The perspective of a guy who got the operation at age 25 follows:

    Parenting has always struck me as terrifying. You start out with a puppyish creature that sleeps, eats, poops, and cries. You are responsible for this creature until you turn it into a moral agent capable of reading a book, creating art, delaying gratification, and, eventually, being capable of creating another human being capable of reading a book, creating art, and delaying gratification.

    What a terrible and horrifying responsibility!

    What if the kid is retarded? What if the kid is autistic? What if the kid has some weird genetic disease that makes it age 10 times faster than normal? What if it’s normal but gets kidnapped or hit by a car or stuck in a refrigerator in a junkyard?

    Having the kid because you’re engaging in that thing that folks engage in is a great way to do an end run around people’s brains and thrust this responsibility upon them because if we relied only on people in their right minds to do this, we’d die out before 10 generations.

    Adoption is someone coming out and saying “I want to take this risk and do this crazy thing”.Report

    • ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird says:


      You sound like my girlfriend when the subject of kids comes up.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

        @ThatPirateGuy, my usual response is something to the effect of “yeah, I get that a lot” but I’ll avoid that this once.

        One of the points that I had failed to make when it comes to the idea of kids is something like the following:

        When folks ask “why don’t you guys have kids? You’re so awesome that your kids would be awesome!” or some variant, I usually make a joke about how much I love my wife, my stuff, and my free time and how a kid would take away huge portions of all three from me. (The real reason is some weird convoluted “consent” argument but let’s not get into that quite yet.)

        Anyway, Freud said that there were no jokes so let’s look at that.

        If the reason that I fear/don’t want to have a kid is because of how selfish I am, it would make sense for me to see people who do have kids (I have been blessed with a huge number of nephews, all of whom we attempt to spoil every birthday/Christmas) as being much less selfish than I… and, indeed, people who go out of their way to have children be they planned pregnancies or adoptions (as opposed to the “you’re what?” nephews) are making positive choices that I, myself, am too afraid/selfish to make.

        These people are picking up a mantle and deliberately saying “I will take this puppyish squealing ball and turn it into a Moral Agent.”

        It isn’t me talking down when I say: from my perspective, adoption *IS* a noble thing to do. It *IS* generous.Report

  7. Chris Dierkes says:

    I can speak somewhat to this from the side of the adopted child (being one). Though some qualifications are in order: 1. I was adopted as a baby so that’s very different than being raised in various foster homes/orphanages. 2. I’m the same color as my parents, so no one immediately caught on I was adopted. 3. My close-knit wider family (cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents) always accepted me and my sister as just part of the family.

    My family and friends “knew” but it wasn’t really a big deal in my youth. I’ve only ever talked to a few cross-racial adoptees, so I’m not really sure how much my experience overlaps (or doesn’t) with their experience.

    Yeah other kids (even adults) will tell you rather baseless and stupid things like they know for sure their mothers loved them more than my mother loved me because they came out of their (raised) mom’s body. Whereas I came out of another woman’s body.

    Mostly I think it’s a fear reaction, it’s an unknown and people aren’t comfortable with ambiguity, so they want/need some immediate framework to make sense so they spout whatever nonsense comes to their minds. Like Bryan Caplan has done, making himself look both a dumbass and a jackass simultaneously.

    There is the experience that many adopted children experience as they grow into adolescence & adulthood however which is the have a difficult experience relating to their family as adults. Adoptees don’t have a monopoly on this issue, of course but it is a significant issue for adoptees.

    Generally my sense is there is a reticence to talk about that difficulty for fear it will be taken to prove the idiotic views of people like Caplan. I think it’s definitely possible to admit that there are (for a goodly number but not all) adoptees a significant pain or confusion about life that is never quite resolved or only resolved after long work AND still hold that their families loved them and they were not second best or somehow less loved beings. To me, it’s not that hard to hold those two elements together, but in my experience for others it’s like theoretical astrophysics or something.

    In the background of this topic I think is always this need to (over?)valorize adoption which for me is trying to sidestep the elephant in the room: the pain of not being in one’s biological family. Which is NOT the same as saying adopted families are derivative families or adopted children are inferior beings or adoptive parents are these super-human moral saints who’ve taken “pity” on us poor adoptees. It’s just recognizing the reality. Also it’s hard to discuss I think because adoptees are (naturally, like pretty much all children) concerned that if they discuss those issues it will be taken by their parents to mean they wished they had never been adopted. And they don’t want to appear ungrateful or hurt their parents whom they love.

    People like Caplan, to the degree they are at all plugged into this, will take it as proof of their thesis that there is some normative biological family unit and in the case of adoptees it’s not achieved and the pain is the consequence. I would say it’s more a psychological rupture at a particularly early phase of development that is hard to get at because it occurred at a pre-verbal stage of development.

    Though I should add in my case there’s an added twist which was I was pretty sick as an infant so I wasn’t able to be taken by my parents until I was about 2 weeks old. During those two weeks I was (given it was 1979) pretty much kept in an incubator (as far as I understand it) and fairly isolated. That’s not the case in every adoption, particularly I gather more recent ones. In other words, I think that early isolation is the more cause of pain for some than any non-normative biological pseudo-selfish gene hypothesis.Report

  8. Jim says:

    As usual, folk tales get there first. There is a wonderful Japanese story called Momotaro, the point of which is that children are basically all adoptees regardless of whose body they come out of.

  9. M.Z. says:

    An adopted child isn’t the same as a natural child. Attempting to establish otherwise is to pursue some ideological agenda. As the child from a 2nd family, I was not viewed the same by my father’s family as the children from his 1st marriage. When father married a 3rd time and I acquired step-siblings, I didn’t see them like my whole brother. In both cases, I was greatly assured that things were equal, and in both cases it was malarkey. I was friends with a Korean adoptee and like many foreign adoptees he had mixed feelings over his adoption. In the end, he thought of himself as basically a stranger in his home, and that is quite common.

    Adopting is a pain.
    This is going to come across as grossly insensitive. More often than not, the reason for the need for adoption is a failure to have kids during the fertile years. Folks have their excuses, but they mostly revolve around not wanting to be like those irresponsible couples that have children when they are young and poor. Now that they have money, a relationship, and have finally grown up, they want their choice to be considered valorous rather than just being treated as the material, consumer-driven demand that it is. This is how you get quotes like, “If anything, it may mean that adoptive parents are more committed to parenting than many “natural” parents.”Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.Z. says:


      What if all the kids are adopted, so they all feel like equals?

      Also, while I understand the suspicion of interracial adoption, I can’t say it’s a utility-maximizing position, virtually whatever your priors are.

      And lastly, you make an empirical claim when you say that “more often than not” adoptions happen because people delayed having children biologically. Please cite a source on this, because it’s the first time I’ve heard such a claim.Report

      • M.Z. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,
        What if all the kids are adopted
        This seems to be a premise where we aren’t going to get a lot of informational content. Needless to say there are many complicated factors. In general, fathers (and mothers) are less likely to enthusiastically support a child that isn’t theirs biologically.

        And lastly, you make an empirical claim when you say that “more often than not” adoptions happen because people delayed having children biologically.
        I would think this is self-apparent.

        Infertility is a prerequisite to apply to most adoption agencies placing babies, and the applicant may be required to provide medical proof of infertility.

        For details on increased age of first birth and infertility issues relating to age:

        If this doesn’t hit the spam filter, I’ll be shocked.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to M.Z. says:

          @M.Z., I rescued it from the moderation queue.

          Families in which all children are adopted do exist (we’re one of them!). Saying “we aren’t going to get a lot of informational content” about such families gives up the search for real data before it even begins. For all I can tell, you’re doing this merely because you are committed to believing something without evidence. I am not reassured.

          In general, fathers (and mothers) are less likely to enthusiastically support a child that isn’t theirs biologically.

          Relative to what, though? Look, I’m terribly sorry about your family situation. It’s obvious that you suffered. I know that blended families often encounter problems (I can even point you to empirical research on this!). I’m far, far from convinced however that the blended family is the proper model for the adoptive family. I am especially unconvinced of this when all the children are adopted. And I am NOT going to let you dump your suffering on my family unnecessarily.

          Further, the very links that you provided absolutely demolish your own claim that most adoptive parents only adopt because they have left their childbearing years but still want a baby. Here’s the one from

          Most infertile couples who seek to adopt infants range in age from their twenties to late thirties or early forties… Some agencies have an upper age limit and will not accept applications from those over 45 (or some other age cutoff.).

          Did you even read before you cited? Or did you just slap together a bunch of prejudices and random URLs?Report

          • M.Z. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            @Jason Kuznicki,

            Families in which all children are adopted do exist (we’re one of them!).
            I thought you were going in a different direction, as in all children going to adopted families. My apologizes.Report

          • M.Z. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            @Jason Kuznicki,
            I’m far, far from convinced however that the blended family is the proper model for the adoptive family. I am especially unconvinced of this when all the children are adopted.
            On the averages, children even faced with some adverse consequence will do fine. If I have come across as believing that adoption is the worst thing in the world, that wasn’t my intention. I’m doubtful that the absence of natural children within an adoptee’s home will substantively change adoptee outcome, but I’ll concede that is just assertion. The fundamental problem I think one has in making the argument is that the family is larger than the household unit, and that doesn’t change based on household composition.

            Further, the very links that you provided absolutely demolish your own claim that most adoptive parents only adopt because they have left their childbearing years but still want a baby. Here’s the one from
            Fertility is starts reducing in the twenties. I know a number of people in their late twenties to early thirties have difficulty conceiving children. That 90% band (or whatever they are using to define typical) includes twenty-somethings isn’t all that singificant. The mean age of first birth is 25 today. In 1970, the mean age was 21. So, clearly people are waiting longer to initiate child birth. And is the quote you’ve chosen states, the couples are infertile. Certainly some of them are infertile due to factors other than age.Report

  10. Jim Henley says:

    Jason, this post is very moving. Thanks for writing it.

    Now, as to its probable effect on Bryan Caplan: 1) You’re gay. 2) You’re an adoptive parent. That puts you doubly outside society’s culturally dominant demographic. And 3, you’re offended. Bryan Caplan’s oeuvre, not just on this topic, suggests that Caplan considers offense taken by people from non-dominant demographics as proof of the truth value of what he’s saying. Plus, it’s fun for him.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jim Henley says:

      @Jim Henley, I’m aware that he takes causing offense as a sign of success. I’d not known him to be explicitly anti-gay, and he is certainly decent enough in person. He should realize though that his DNA Uber Alles worldview really does commit him to viewing me as subhuman.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jim Henley says:

      @Jim Henley,

      And another thing — if Bryan’s serious about this cloning stuff, then he shouldn’t ever want his cloned child reproducing the old-fashioned way. No sense diluting the pure line of Bryan Caplans. I mean, we’ve found human perfection already, right?Report

  11. Rufus F. says:

    My mother-in-law was adopted and she’s closer to her parents than anyone in my own family, at least. The weird thing is that she bears a striking resemblance to her adopted mother, although I assume that wasn’t planned.

    As for adoption, I’ve often thought about it, since my wife’s got a condition that would make having a child of our own problematic. I’ve heard people ask that question about whether we’d love the child less, but it always strikes me as stupid. If the baby showed up at the adoption agency or popped out of my wife, I’d love it just the same. What difference does the introduction make?Report

    • Scott in reply to Rufus F. says:

      @Rufus F.,

      It is not the introduction per se. As somone whose wife just popped out a kid. I can say there is something that amazes me every time I look at my new daughter and think that half her genetic makeup came from me. Maybe I think about it more since I’ve done a lot of genealogy.Report

  12. AM says:

    The reason adoption is “generous” is because there are an awful lot of kids out there who need adopting, and not enough people who want to adopt them. There is no argument that adoption is usually the fallback choice for people who would have preferred to have a biologically-related child, is there? So if you choose to forego the biological relationship that most people want, what’s wrong with acknowledging some generosity in that act? You have probably vastly improved the life of the child you adopted. Isn’t that an act of generosity?Report

  13. Gisele says:

    As a parent of a 12 year old adopted son and 6 year old twins conceived through IVF, I can certainly bring a perspective to being both an adoptive and biologic parent. While I love all my children differently (as they are different beings with differing personalities), I don’t have any greater affinity, love or commitment to my biologic children than I do for my adopted son.
    The issue I have with labeling adoption as noble and generous has less to do with the statement about MY moral approach to the process and more to do with the notion that my son required rescuing, even if in many respects he did.
    Remarks of that kind further complicate an adoptive child’s process of recognizing and assimilating the difference of being part of a family through adoption rather than through the traditional family unit of two parents and biologic children. I am particularly sensitive to these types of “well-meaning” remarks that carry with them a message, whether overt or not, that imply my son is inferior. I think that you would find the vast majority of adoptive parents are defensive about this topic. There is still an amazing amount of ignorance out in the general public about the dynamics of an adoptive family and these types of uninformed remarks can be incredibly damaging and hurtful.Report

    • Scott in reply to Gisele says:


      “There is still an amazing amount of ignorance out in the general public about the dynamics of an adoptive family and these types of uninformed remarks can be incredibly damaging and hurtful.”

      Sorry that you can’t accept that a biological relationship does mean something more to some people. Name an animal that is hardwired by evolution to prefer another’s offspring over it own biological offspring?Report

      • Gisele in reply to Scott says:

        @Scott, I think you misunderstand me. I can certainly accept and do understand the importance of biology, and I would argue that those who suffer from infertility are probably more acutely aware of that importance than those who have been able to easily reproduce.
        I’d also so that you misrepresent my remarks when you say that I imply that I “prefer another’s offspring over” my own biological offspring. I don’t prefer my son over my daughters. I’m saying I have the capacity to love them equally. There are multiple examples in nature of animals who do rear another’s offspring, including animals outside their own species.
        My frustration comes from those who make statements, most often innocently, that imply my son to be inferior. As an adult, I can understand that not all individuals feel like they would want to adopt a child. It’s not an easy decision to make and I would encourage anyone with reservations about raising a child not biologically their own to avoid adoption obviously. But, as a parent, I’m understandably protective of the messages that my child receives from the public, friends and family that he may be less able to decipher and fit into his own self-image. In that respect, I’m no different than any parent is about protecting their child.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Gisele says:


          Well said. A great deal of adoption counseling, as you know, deals with exactly these issues.

          The ability to love is not confined to one’s genetic relatives. Those who yell the loudest about how love must be confined to those relatives… only confess how limited their own capacities are. I pity them.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:


        Name an animal that’s hardwired to type comments on blogs? The beauty of being human is that we can make choices, and those choices can be the most meaningful things in our lives.

        Yes, yes, the biological relationship means more to some people. Their views lead directly to either cruelty, or Bryan-Caplan style self-cloning forever and ever. Which is just to say that they are obviously wrong, and that their ideas have evil consequences.Report

        • Scott in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          @Jason Kuznicki,

          Funny that an adoptive parent is screaming the loudest that biology doesn’t matter. It seems you protest too much.

          I’m not talking about “love” whatever that is. A biological parent has a evolutionary stake in seeing that its genes passed are along, an outcome that an adoptive parent has never had and will never have.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:


            I thought the same thing about those pesky black civil rights folks. Carrying on all the time about how they were just as good as anyone else.

            Please! Anyone who constantly says stuff like that must have something to hide.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:


            I should also add that you commit a serious fallacy here: “A biological parent has a evolutionary stake in seeing that its genes passed are along, an outcome that an adoptive parent has never had and will never have.”

            Your genes and mine are well over 99.5% similar. Any motivation that supposedly stems from the need to pass on what’s genetically so great about me would apply just as well to you, and to your genes.

            The differences are real, but they are tiny, and they are impossible for anyone to assess in terms of species fitness. Thinking that we all must compete with one another — thanks to that less than .5% — just ignores the ways in which we are all fundamentally similar, genetically speaking.

            Our greatest differences, and our greatest potential contributions to the future of humanity, are in our ideas, not in our genes.Report

            • @Jason Kuznicki, I think you get to an important limit in “vulgar ev-psych” here: clearly there is a human drive to adoption. People do it. People go out of their way, as you point out, to do it. Someone who is really interested in evolutionary explanations for behavior (and I’m actually one; you know my interest in animal cognition and sociality) would, you’d think, be at least more interested in the evolutionary fact of adoption than in deprecating it relative to breeding.Report

          • Gisele in reply to Scott says:

            @Scott, Your argument here seems to boil down human procreation and parenting into strictly evolutionary terms about genetics. Surely you recognize that our own evolution has instilled a more complex motivation scheme to reproduction than simply the passing on of our unique DNA. Many, many people choose not to parent at all, so clearly evolution has allowed for that adaptation as well.
            You seem vested in deeming biology or adoption into a hierarchy and I’m confused why. I fully understand the hunger for seeing oneself reflected in one’s children. Having biologic children, I find myself looking for those visual clues that reaffirm the notion that this child “belongs” to me. Interestingly, I find myself looking for (and often finding) those same clues in my son. Call it the old nature/nurture argument, but there is much that is familiar in my son that is probably as attributable to the shared DNA of all humans as it is to the upbringing he is having at our hands.
            I’m not upset nor offended by the fact that you feel amazement when looking at your child knowing that your genetic makeup helped to form her. That’s natural and wonderful. It doesn’t make your parental bond or the nature of your relationship with your children somehow superior, however. I don’t think that’s what you are trying to say, but that is an easy inference for me to make. Even more so for a 12 year old already struggling to understand his life.
            I’m a fierce advocate for my son and for adoption. It was a miracle for us and I’m utterly unapologetic for defending the nature of my family to those who deem biology superior.Report

  14. Tim Hulsey says:

    I’m reminded of a story about Roy Rogers’ family, which was very large and included both biological and adopted children. One afternoon, Dale overheard a discussion between one of her biological and one of her adopted children. The biological child stated that she was more important because she was really Mommy and Daddy’s child. The adoptee promptly replied, “Yeah, but Mommy and Daddy CHOSE me. They HAD to take you.”Report

  15. witch queen says:

    What I find interesting in this discussion is the assumption that biological parents will be more ‘invested’ in their children than adoptive parents.

    My spouse’s father abandoned his children before any of them reached the age of 8. Spouse’s mother raised the children but made it clear that her own needs came first (still does this). So, as bio parents go, spouse had a failure of two for two.

    I can’t imagine an adoptive parent could have been less invested (or loving) than these bio parents.

    The truth is that parenting is a calling and whether you adopt or give birth or end up raising your sister’s kids, if this is what you actively choose to do, you will do well at it. Parenting takes a tremendous amount of maturity, self-sacrifice, and damn hard work.

    Which, in my view is well worth it. But if you aren’t willing to put in this work for any child you end up with, do us all a favor and don’t reproduce or adopt. Frankly, what concerns me about Bryan Caplan is the obvious immaturity that he brings to the idea of parenting. He doesn’t want a child, he wants an adoring fan club whose song is “Me, me, me”.

    This is a predictor of hideous parenting in my experience.Report

  16. TGGP says:

    “I am astonished that someone writing a book about children can have such prejudiced views about adoption. I see these views all the time among friends and family, but never, as a rule, among experts in the field.”
    He’s not really an expert in the field of adoption, is he? So his conventional views are completely unsurprising. I suspect he/the average jackass have a point: having an unrelated older male in the house is supposed to be a prime risk factor for kids.

    In the process of writing this I came up with a thought-experiment. Imagine some parents were infertile and adopted in order to have a kid. If they somehow regained their fertility later on, would they be more likely to adopt more children or have biological children? If the bias against adoption is based on ignorance, then the initial adopted kid should correct that.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to TGGP says:


      I’m familiar with the “unrelated older male” data. The ev psych explanation is obvious, but unconvincing. That’s because the typical situation in these studies is a single mother with a boyfriend. A boyfriend has lots of incentive to use and abuse the child. He or she becomes leverage against the mother in an environment where little commitment exists. The same is unlikely to be true in adoptive families, and in fact families that adopt children at birth have similar incidence of child abuse to biological families.

      As to your second point, I’ve known one family, granted an exceptional one, that had four biological children and then went on to adopting, and had (I think it was) four more.

      Call it even?Report

    • Gisele in reply to TGGP says:

      “Imagine some parents were infertile and adopted in order to have a kid. If they somehow regained their fertility later on, would they be more likely to adopt more children or have biological children? If the bias against adoption is based on ignorance, then the initial adopted kid should correct that.”

      I think the problem with that thought experiment is that the motivations for pursuing more children and how to accomplish that is too variable.
      We pursed biologic children after having adopted for a couple of different reasons. One, my husband felt like our adoptive experience with our son had been so exceptionally fantastic that he feared a second experience couldn’t live up to that precedent. It was an odd objection to adopting a second time, but one that was utterly valid for him. Two, as a woman, I still had a desire to experience pregnancy. Our intial investigations into having additional children began with looking into “adopting” frozen embryos from another couple. However, my doctor convinced me that we should try traditional IVF first and we were successful. So again, it was far more about my personal female drive to experience pregnancy (which in hindsight might not have been smart since I spent 4 months on bedrest) rather than the idea that we were biased toward wanting biologic children.Report

  17. Your post touched me. Thanks for writing it. I started a blog today to face the very issues you talk about – the journey of an adopted child finding their way to feeling like something more than second best.Report