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The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  672 ratings  ·  75 reviews
"A NEW YORK TIMES" NOTABLE BOOKHow much credit do parents deserve when their children turn out welt? How much blame when they turn out badly? Judith Rich Harris has a message that will change parents' lives: The "nurture assumption" -- the belief that what makes children turn out the way they do, aside from their genes, is the way their parents bring them up -- is nothing ...more
Paperback, 462 pages
Published September 14th 1999 by Free Press (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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Skylar Burris
This is a very long (and at times personal) review. If you would prefer to read a more concise and formal version of this review, click here.

If Judith Rich Harris is right, there’s good news, and then there’s bad news. The good news is that there isn’t much I can do to screw up my kid. The bad news is that there’s not much I can do to keep her peers from screwing her up.

“The nurture assumption” is the assumption (made by sociologists, psychologists, educators, criminologists, parents, non-paren
I wrestled with whether to give this book four stars or five. Despite its length and density, it was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in a while – stimulating, provocative, highly readable, and actually laugh-out-loud funny at times. Her arguments are too intelligent to be easily dismissed, much to the chagrin of Jewish mothers like myself. However, I decided on four stars because, ultimately, I’m not convinced.

Harris points out that much of the evidence for what she calls
Andrew Hill
I read this book with great interest. It has been quite influential in the developmental psychology community, and its arguments are widely cited in other work on the subject. The book makes two arguments: 1) The influence of parents on their children is grossly overstated by developmental psychologists. decades of research has largely failed to demonstrate the strength or persistence of "nurture" effects on children over the long-term. 2) Group effects are far more powerful than parental effect ...more
I read this book because I am a child and youth care worker, and I think it is important to read materials that are influencing current thinking. As a practioner, I am glad I read this book, even though I fundamentally disagree with the author on pretty much every point. I think it is important to consider the impact that peer relations have on child development. But Harris misses the mark.

Harris is undoubtedly right that peers do have a strong influence over how children develop. However, her
Very fun and insightful read. I found her ideas salve to the current climate of "expert" opinions on childrearing. ALthough I am not a darwinist (as she is), her alter-argument to the assumption that every little thing we do has a permanent mark on our children helps assuage the guilt we've accumulated from all those studies done on how we should be the perfect parent. She points out the autonomy children are born with, that parents should not be blamed for most of children's development. Don't ...more
Ellen Snyder
The question of where one's personality comes from is interesting - is it nurture or nature? Harris notes that genetic factors account for about half of the variation in personality - I think most scientists agree with that, but her take on the other half is controversial. In the old days, Freud and others blamed the mother if things didn't turn out so well, but Harris says, at least under ordinary circumstances, one's peer group is likely to have the most influence on how kids turn out. Parent' ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Kathrynn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Teachers, parents, foster parents, doctors, psychologists
There was so much covered in this thick, large paperback that it is difficult to decide what group of people it was intended for. Teachers and parents, definitely. I understand how this book came up in other books I've read and that's why I decided to read it. Wow.

Enjoyed the author's writing style and her humor had me chuckling throughout the 462 pages. The author presented numerous in-depth background examples and used them throughout the book. There was a tremendous amount of research that fl
Dec 31, 2014 Sam rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents, educators, therapists, science nerds
This is a great & misunderstood book. Even the 4-sentence publisher blurb on Goodreads isn’t quite accurate. Judith Harris does not claim “that parents have little impact on their children's development”; it’s parenting style that has little impact. Parents impact their children genetically, as well as by deciding in what community a child will be raised & how often a child will move from place to place. There's a whole (usually ignored) section on what parents *can* do to impact their c ...more
Jurij Fedorov
What a weird book. The main theory in this book has for a long time been proven correct. But not many know about it, so Harris is doing every scientist a great favor in sharing this very important message in her very entertaining book. But as an academic book I do have some quarrels with it.

Harris is a great writer. Only a few people in academia can match her great, easy-to-read and funny way of sharing an important message. Just this alone makes the book a great read. But all the informativ
Amy Raby
This is one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books. I re-read it every four to five years and enjoy it every time. I think every parent should read it--although many will find it uncomfortable, because it challenges a dearly-held notion in our culture, that parents have the ability to shape our children's personalities into what we want them to be. Sorry, the evidence says we don't.

It's also a super entertaining read. Judith Rich Harris is a fabulous writer. The book is full of little jokes an
This book first came out 16 years ago, and for whatever reason, it's just as fresh today as I imagine it would have been back then. I don't say that lightly because in the interim, I've read a few developmental psych textbooks, taken psych classes, and read more than my fair share of books pertaining to parenting or education. Somehow, Group Socialization Theory (GST) escaped my purview.

For someone interested in education and parenting, I place this book at the very top. Perhaps I do that becau
This book should be more popular. Harris wrote and edited psych textbooks before writing this book. She says that parents shape kids by providing genetics only. She shoots down the idea that all the silly stuff we do to shape our kids' minds is bunk; peers and environment shape kids much more. It's a strange concept, but brilliant.
Jon Tirsen
This is the only "parenting" book you need to read. I believe it will change my life quite a bit.

Judith offers fairly convincing evidence that as a parent I have little long term influence on the life outcome of my children. Initially it made me pissed off but now I'm relieved.

It means I can relate to my children more as a friend and life companion. Things I do for them is out of love, not due to some ulterior motive that they will become more successful long term. If I can't be arsed reading a
Vesal Vojdani
I will rate this book five stars until someone can actually point to any real evidence against its thesis. I've seen many people dismiss it based on various theories of child development. For example, a reasonable neuroscientist might ask, given the amount of brain development during the first five year, how can one seriously believe that peers play a larger role in shaping adult personality than parents?

Well, as far as I've seen, population-level evidence seems to side with Harris. There are s
A gem of a book that exposes the bad science and unconscious assumptions behind contemporary beliefs on childrearing and the power of parental influence. Ms Harris backs up her theories with a wealth of studies, but never loses her straightforward, often hilarious writing.

100% recommended to every parent out there.

"The heritability of fatness and thinness is somewhat higher than that of personality characteristics: about. 70. But the important point is that the variation in weight that's n
A must-read for parents who are raising difficult childres. Despite what well-meaning relatives, teachers, guidance counselors and scout leaders tell you, IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!!
I was expecting this book to make the case for more relaxed parenting, debunking the ever growing list of things to do right that drive many micromanaging parents crazy and give those who refuse to comply a guilt-trip. The book DID try to say "Don't worry your kids will turn out okay", but it failed to define statistically 'okay' in any way meaningful to me (other than merely not criminal and holding down a job, which is the author's described standard for her children). Instead the book tried t ...more
Alex MacMillan
“My momma say ‘Tuck your chain, son, they’ll take it.’ I hit her with one of them stale faces, like, ‘I’ll be damned momma, they know who I am momma, I’m still your little boy but to them I’m the man momma…” – Lil Wayne

This book further elaborated on what I read in descendants like The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. American parents drastically overestimate the effect of pare
"This electrifying book explodes some of our deepest beliefs about children and parents... " says the apologist text for Ms. Harris. I guess if you consider the spritz of a lady finger an explosion. There is virtually no good science in this book. It begins with an overstated straw man alternate hypothesis and uses flawed logic to knock the phantom down.

I really want to put this book on my turd heap shelf but I will resist because Ms. Harris is so earnest. But I cannot give it any stars.

I find i
Brilliant book. The title is a bit of a misnomer because Harris deals with so much more than child development theory. With that being said, this book has still given me a lot of perspective on my role as a parent. It also made me think about who I was as a child and the influence of my parents.
Malcolm Gladwell often cites this book as being one of his favorite, as well as the template for his genre (of which he is the most famous author, though probably not the best). So in a time where books l
She defines nurture not as all environmental factors, but only the parents in regards to influence in children lives. My initial reaction is to reject her premise. To say “parents don’t influence how their kids turn out” is about as ignorant as ever. But I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. She may be saying that parents don’t play as large of a part as we often think in how the kid’s personalities turn out.

The biggest thing I take from this book is to not overlook the power of peer groups an
Feb 12, 2012 Sharon rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents, teachers
Shelves: psychology
A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking book. Harris challenges "the nurture assumption" that how parents choose to bring up their children influences how they ultimately fare in life. She argues that children undergo socialisation (ie learn how to behave) through their peer groups. To support her argument, she takes the reader on a journey through different cultures, species and periods of history. She also does a very good job of highlighting the pitfalls of psychology research - the appe ...more
Benjamin Knoll
This book was okay. I'm 55% persuaded by her argument (basically that peer groups largely determine how kids turn out and not parental influence). The book itself was unnecessarily long, though. She could have made the same argument in 1/10th the space and been just as effective. Instead, she repeats the same points over and over again. Even though she's not an academic (officially), she writes psychology textbooks for a living and provides just enough familiarity with the "language" of academic ...more
David Bird
I found parts of this book plausible, but resist the idea of it as a unified field theory of personality.

She is at great pains to demolish Sulloway's Born to Rebel (don't know if she's an eldest!). I end up with a compromise that would probably satisfy neither author: that the effects differ based on the individual's experience.

Harris's world is one in which there's a neighborhood gang of peers; Sulloway's one in which the world is dominated by one's immediate family and own role therein. One
Leah Flowers
This is an excellent book. Even for those who don't agree with everything the author says it's a fascinating theory, and is useful for parents and interesting for anyone interested in child development. It's written in such a witty an entertaining way that makes it much easier to get through than most other nonfiction books I've read. My favorite part was the chapter called What Parents Can Do.
This is a challenge to the traditional belief that parents are the primary shapers of their children's personality and psychological life. Harris argues that it is biology and peers that are more significant. I found this book helpful in thinking more completely about this issue and in not accepting just the popular view that parent's are primarily responsible for their children's psychological development. What I didn't like was the style of writing--it started to feel a little bit like her own ...more
I have to say that i really liked Harris' book, both content and writing style. Backing it with very interesting studies/experiments, she questions the established belief that parents have an enormous influence on their children's personality and replaces it with her own theory of group and inter-group dynamics. In her opinion, our peers determine many of the characteristics we'll take with us to adulthood since we try to follow the norms of the group we're in and therefore get more and more sim ...more
Dennis Junk
This is a must-read, as it dispels quite a bit of almost universally believed nonsense about psychology. (Harris's beef with Frank Sulloway, however, is an unfortunate embarrassment for her; she got in over her head there.)
A counterintuitive yet persuasive book that argues that what really shapes children's personality, future income, and overall place in life are not parents but peers and genetics. Yes, you heard that right - parents really don't matter. Atleast not as far as anything outside of influencing genes and peer group (by what neighborhood they live in, for example) goes.

I was hesitant to believe it at first but chapter after chapter Judith Harris has me convinced. It's no wonder the book comes highly
Chris Branch
Harris is smart, insightful, and I think she's correct. As counterintuitive as most people think it is, it seems parents really don't influence their kids as much as they think - maybe not at all. Unfortunately, Harris also takes a snarky tone for much of the book, which I could have done without. She wants to make it clear that she's not a professional academic; she's skeptical of conclusions reached by investigators using questionable methods and she's critical, rightly so, of media coverage o ...more
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