Transracial adoptees psychological adjustment not as dependent upon their cultural identity as presumed, according to new study

August 25, 2001

Adjustment may be more influenced by family and peer relationships

SAN FRANCISCO -- Transracial adoptees' exposure and competence in their birth culture may not be necessary for good psychological adjustment, according to a study involving young adult transracial adoptees.

Transracial adoptees who identified with the White culture of their adopted parents were found to be neither better nor worse psychologically adjusted than those who identified with their birth culture, according to research on adjustment of adopted young adults. The findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 109th Annual Convention.

Through the use of survey questionnaires, the study accessed the racial and cultural identity and psychological adjustment of 51 adult transracial adoptees (ages 19-36 years old) who were the biological offspring of at least one non-White individual and who were adopted by two White parents.

The sample included African Americans and Latino Americans adopted by White American families as well as intercountry adoptees from Asian and South American countries. Only those adopted by White couples were included in the study because the vast majority of the transracial adoptions that have taken place in the U.S. have been White couples adopting non-White children.

The study found no benefit or harm in which culture transracial adoptees identify with and found there is no "best way" to identify as a transracial adoptee. "Perhaps the psychological adjustment of transracial adoptees may be influenced more by their parental and family relationships, peer relationships, achievement, or a host of other factors than by the racial and often cultural differences that exist in transracially adopting families," says study author Amanda L Baden, Ph.D., of St. John's University. "The adult population used in this study is important," according to Dr. Baden, "because research shows identity conflicts and formation occur in adolescence and the vast majority of studies of identity and adjustment have been with pre-adolescent children."

There was some evidence that identification with one's adoptive parents and culture (in this case, the White culture) may help predict psychological adjustment, says Dr. Baden, but more research is needed to confirm this finding. "It's possible that transracial adoptees who function adequately in the White culture and who do not reject White culture may report less psychological distress.

If this relationship is shown to exist, it could suggest that psychological adjustment would naturally be poorer for those transracial adoptees who did not accept or at least function well within the culture of their parents," said Dr. Baden. She adds that this process is similar to that of children who feel disenfranchised from or choose to reject the values, beliefs and traditions that comprise their parents' culture, which could make their adjustment more difficult.

While concluding that identifying with their birth culture is not necessary for adjustment, "I don't want to give the message that transracial adoptees do not find any strength or solace from learning about their birth culture," said Dr. Baden. "Transracial adoptees form a unique identity that is composed of a combination of identifying with the 'minority experience,' knowledge and values from the White culture, and aspects of their birth culture intermingled in some significant ways."
Presentation: "Psychological Adjustment of Transracial Adoptees: Applying the Cultural-Racial Identity Model," Amanda L. Baden, Ph.D., St. John's University; Session 2268, 2:00 - 2:50 PM, August 25, 2001, Moscone Center - South Building, Exhibit Hall C (249). Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office Study author Amanda Baden, Ph.D., is available for interviews at 718-990-1558 or

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