Dr. Christine Bachrach's Study:
How Pro-Adoption Organizations Twist the Facts
by Bernadette Wright, Ph.D.
convince mothers to abandon their babies, adoption agencies and
anti-abortion organizations often ignore the trauma experienced
by mothers who lose their children and purport that they will be
better off. Several pro-adoption organizations have relied
on a 1986 study by Dr. Christine Bachrach of the National
Center for Health Statistics* to support this claim. This article
compares what pro-adoption organizations said about the Bachrach
study with what the study actually says.
Issues Institute, an anti-abortion organization that favors
adoption, in an article repeated on CrisisPregnancy.com,
recall a fine study out of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics
by Dr. Christine Bachrach. The area that she reported on is how
does the b****mother fare--the generous woman who placed her baby
in the arms of adoptive parents--as compared to a single mother
who keeps her baby?
Dr. Bachrach has good news for us. From her report, which is well
documented, it is clear that the women who choose adoption do
much better than those unmarried women who keep their babies.
Let's look. Only 18% of women who choose adoption later live below
the poverty line. In comparison, 40% of women who kept their babies
live in poverty.
way of looking at this is to ask how many were receiving some
kind of public assistance. Here the difference is even greater.
For those who opted for adoption, only 21% were on public assistance
compared to 51% of those who kept their babies.
about Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) - that's the big government
program? What are the numbers here? They're almost startling!
Of the single b**** mothers who were parenting their children,
36% were receiving AFDC compared to only 7% of the women who had
placed their babies.
of finances. Let's look at some other parameters. Another measure
of future stability and security is education. Who finished high
school? 77% of those who placed their babies finished, while only
60% of the b**** mothers who kept their babies finished high school.
about the stability that marriage brings later - or certainly
should? Does placing a child in an adoptive home help or hinder
the b**** mother's chance for a later marriage? It helps, quite
a bit. Of those who kept their children, only 50% married later.
Of those who placed their children, 70% married later....
data showed that both groups--those who chose adoption and those
who did not--had an identical fertility rate of 59% later. "
1982 study found that unmarried b****mothers who made adoption plans
were more likely to continue their education, were more likely
to marry subsequently, and were less likely to receive public
assistance than b****mothers who chose to parent their child born
out-of-wedlock. (Bachrach). (emphasis added)"
Why They Are
interpretations of the Bachrach study are wrong for several reasons.
First, in comparing unmarried mothers who kept the child of their
first pregnancy with mothers who lost their first child, Bachrach
reported both adjusted and unadjusted percentages (see table below).
Both Life Issues Institute and NAIC used Bachrach's "unadjusted
percentages" from the study, to exaggerate the differences in outcomes
between mothers who surrendered their first child and unmarried
mothers who kept the child of their first pregnancy. A more
valid measure of the consequences of adoption is the "adjusted percentages."
To understand the effects of adoption, it is important to control
for factors other than adoption that may explain the differences
between mothers who surrendered and those who kept their babies.
The adjusted percentages in the study control for the effects of
(1) time since pregnancy ended, (2) age at pregnancy, (3) father's
education, (4) whether living with both parents at age 14, and (5)
at Time of Interview
any public assistance
any public assistance
adjusted percentages suggest much smaller differences between mothers
who surrendered and those who kept their children than Life Institute
or NAIC would have us believe. For example, both organizations claimed
that mothers who surrendered were more likely to get married. However,
as Bachrach pointed out, no significant difference was found when
the study adjusted for other factors that may have affected likelihood
of getting married:
the percentage who ever married and the percentage who had a subsequent
birth differ considerably among the four pregnancy outcomes**
before adjustment, after adjustment the differences are smaller
and nonsignificant. The adjusted percentage ever married was
virtually identical for all three groups who had not married by
the time the pregnancy ended." (emphasis added)
Life Institute noted that unmarried mothers who kept their children
were more likely than mothers who lost their children to adoption
to be receiving AFDC and said the differences were "startling."
However, there is nothing "startling" about it. Using adjusted percentages,
only 51 percent of mothers who surrendered had another baby. Because
one must have a dependent child in order to qualify for AFDC, about
half (49 percent) of the mothers who surrendered would not have
been able to receive AFDC no matter how dire their financial condition.
Thus, the lower rate of AFDC assistance among mothers who surrendered,
half of whom never parented a child, should not be interpreted as
evidence that they were better off financially. Also, it is important
to be aware that the percentages "receiving any public assistance"
include mothers receiving AFDC.
Life Institute concluded that Bachrach's study was "good news" for
people who spend their time attempting to separate mothers and their
babies. Yet Bachrach's study in no way provides evidence that adoption
causes any benefits for the mother. It is important to remember
that correlation does not equal causation. As Bachrach said, just
because women who surrender their children were less likely to be
in poverty and more likely to complete high school does not
mean that surrending the child caused these differences.
It is possible that both the decision to surrender and the later
financial well-being of the mother were a result of other, unmeasured
factors. To say that Bachrach's study provides evidence that adoption
is somehow good for the mother is to draw conclusions that have
no basis in the available evidence, conclusions that Bachrach herself
cautioned the reader not to make:
The associations between socioeconomic factors, such as a low percentage
in poverty, and being either an adopted child or a mother who made
an adoption plan require careful interpretation. Although there
are ample grounds for expecting that adoption reduces the chances
of poverty for the unmarried pregnant woman and her child, this
study also suggests that socioeconomic factors, as reflected in
race and father's education, may play an important role in the adoption
decision. This could create an association between adoption and
socioeconomic status even if there were no direct causal link. For
example, to the extent that a woman's decision whether to place
her child for adoption depends on her prospects for educational
or occupational achievement (with which childrearing could conflict),
her later economic status may reflect a continuation of the same
economic conditions that influenced her decision rather than the
effect of the decision per se." (emphasis added)
even if mothers who surrendered were found to have higher incomes
or more education because they surrendered, this would not mean
that they "do much better" overall. Having more money or more education
does not make up for the trauma and lifetime of emotional pain that
losing one's child brings. It should be noted that the study was
done in 1982, before any real awareness of negative consequences
to mothers had made its way into the public consciousness. People
didn't even consider the possibility.
conclusion, this is a good example of how anti-abortion groups and
adoption agencies will twist the facts and lie to get mothers to
surrender their babies.
Christine A. "Adoption Plans, Adopted Children, and Adoptive Mothers."
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48 (May 1986): 234-253.
**The study also included outcomes for mothers who were married
and kept their babies and women who lost their pregnancy due to
miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.