This paper seeks to contribute to debates about how people's adult lives unfold after experiencing childhood adversity. It presents analysis from the British Chinese Adoption Study: a mixed methods follow-up study of women, now aged in their 40s and early 50s, who spent their infant lives in Hong Kong orphanages and were then adopted by families in the UK in the 1960s.
Sixty-eight women participated via questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. The paper draws on both quantitative analysis (using standardised measures and systematically coded data on adult life events) and qualitative analysis of interview data to identify the context and subjective meaning of the quantitative findings.
We found that most of the women lived largely positive, stable, well-supported lives although punctuated by challenging periods. Using regression analysis, two variables were significantly associated with poorer mid-life functioning over and above other potential influences: a) feeling unhappy about being adopted, and b) partnership adversity after age 25. No associations were found between childhood experiences and patterns of adult adversity. Illustrations are given, based on the interviews, of the women's multi-faceted perspectives on the long-term impact of being internationally adopted and on professional support.
We conclude that when early orphanage care (of reasonable quality) was followed by a good quality adoption, most women were able to negotiate the majority of later difficulties successfully. The findings suggest two important implications for understanding mid-life outcomes: a) that experiences in both childhood and adulthood should be taken into account and b) individuals' subjective views on being internationally adopted may help explain divergent outcomes within groups with similar early experiences.