Exploring the Origins of Adoption in Human Evolution: A Literature Review

Open Access
Szymanski, Alyssa Marie
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Augustus Matthews, Thesis Supervisor
  • Timothy Michael Ryan, Honors Advisor
  • adoption
  • origins
  • evolution
  • kin-selection
  • allomothering
  • parental investment
  • intercountry
  • reform
  • demographics
  • ethics
Human adoptive practices have persisted for centuries across countries and cultures. Yet as Darwinian thought would dictate, theories such as kin selection and natural selection do not necessarily mesh with the practice of adoption. Caring for the offspring of a close relative is one thing, yet many individuals across the world invest an abundance of time, money and emotion in order to receive a non-biologically related infant that will then consequently need care and resources for much of its life. If we are to believe that parental investment is reserved for only the closest, biologically related kin and behavior otherwise would prove costly to our own evolutionary fitness, how could it be that adoptive practices developed in human evolution? As with much of anthropological and sociological studies, concrete answers are rare. However through exploring the adoptive practices among primates, the parental investment patterns among various family structures and the historical origins of adoptive practices both in the United States and abroad, we can attempt to piece together the story of adoption throughout human evolution and thus the reasoning for it. Some of the conclusions reached may surprise us, such as the adoptive practices that have in fact been recorded among some primate species. Other ideas proposed may bring awareness to the misconceptions often targeted toward the overall well-being of adoptive families. Both culturally and historically though, recorded adoptive practices and behaviors provide a rich story for how the process evolved, and continues to evolve, in human history. The following thesis aims to explore not just answers, but also analysis on the current literature on adoption. By the conclusion, I hope to have offered a succinct examination of the evolutionary, sociological, cultural and historical evidence of the origins of adoption in human evolution.