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

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  976 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
How much credit do parents deserve when their children turn out well? 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 raise them--is nothing more than a cultural myth. This elect ...more
Paperback, 462 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Free Press (first published 1998)
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Skylar Burris
Nov 02, 2009 Skylar Burris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting, sociology
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
Andrew Hill
Feb 10, 2012 Andrew Hill rated it it was ok
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
Oct 15, 2007 K rated it really liked it
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
Jurij Fedorov
Dec 02, 2014 Jurij Fedorov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2011 Tania rated it liked it
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
Oct 08, 2008 Misty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 16, 2008 Kathrynn rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2015 Aleksandra rated it really liked it
When it comes to the author's main premise, I can't say I am completely convinced. Because I'm not. :D (That has something to do with the data from the twin studies showing that the so-called shared environmental factors explain some percentage of variance on the variables such as alcohol use, smoking, externalizing problem behaviour etc..)

Also, I can't agree with her views regarding corporal punishment. While I do think that "an occasional smack" (as long as there isn't plenty of those occasion
Mar 05, 2014 Tim rated it it was amazing
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
Alex MacMillan
Feb 20, 2013 Alex MacMillan rated it liked it
“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
Vesal Vojdani
Aug 23, 2014 Vesal Vojdani rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 13, 2014 Mariana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ellen Snyder
Feb 23, 2012 Ellen Snyder rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 25, 2016 Terry rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
The basic idea is simple - that peer group environment is more important than parents. Children behave differently at home and with their peer groups. The author went back to evolution, research experiments and real life examples to debunk many myths.

I think the conclusion and logic are convincing, but the idea is also simple and obvious, which doesn't require such a big book to analyze. I also think despite all the efforts many researchers have put into this topic, there is simply no way to se
Jon Tirsen
May 06, 2015 Jon Tirsen rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 22, 2011 Sam rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Apr 28, 2008 Billy rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 19, 2016 O. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Key to a Social Revolution

All parents must read this book, in fact everyone needs to read it. This book holds the key to a new social revolution. Know that you dont have much effect on your children, its mostly genes and zeitgeist...
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!!
Fernando del Alamo
La autora defiende en este libro que los padres apenas tienen influencia en el desarrollo de los hijos y que lo que realmente influye es en el grupo en el que están en su día a día, bien sea en la escuela, bien sea su grupo de amigos con los que se mueve.

Lo que sí influyen los padres es poder tenerlos en un ambiente u otro, está claro que si los padres tienen más dinero, el hijo se criará con los hijos de los que tienen más dinero y viceversa; pero no porque los padres tengan una influencia dire
Jun 23, 2017 Cyndie rated it liked it
Recommended to Cyndie by: Laura Ward
The author makes a systematic case for the fact that how parents "train" their children has much less to do with how they turn out than 1) genetics, 2) the influence of that child's peers and the social norms they are taught based on the environment the child grows up in and the people they are surrounded by. Both scary and a bit of a relief at the same time to think as a parent that you have perhaps so little control over how your children will ultimately behave.
This isn't the type of book I usually read, but the author makes some really good points and the book is incredibly well referenced. I don't believe that nurture is as irrelevant as she makes it out to be, but I agree that you cannot discount the huge impact of nature on a child's development. The problem is even if it is likely, you can't really nail any of this stuff down. She claims one thing, another psychologist says the complete opposite. It is too easy to skew studies to reflect what you ...more
Isabelle Delisle
Mar 01, 2017 Isabelle Delisle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-written, well-documented, well-argued. A bold counterpoint to the prevailing view that how we raise our children is crucial to how they turn out. For Harris, the genes that we transmit is the bulk of our influence as parents, with socialization within peer group doing the rest. In this edition, she revisits her arguments and theories in the light of new data and insights, which adds interesting perspective. Her understanding of evolutionary biology has some faults (whose doesn't?), but her ...more
Jan 16, 2013 Cris rated it it was ok
Shelves: eclectic, parenting
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
Paulo Glez Ogando
Dec 29, 2016 Paulo Glez Ogando rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: educación
En este libro Harris extiende las ideas que ella misma había comenzado a promover en un artículo publicado poco antes (1995) en la revista Psychological Review. Se trata de la teoría de la socialización a través del grupo, que pretende sustituir a los padres y a los métodos de crianza en el hogar como la principal influencia en la constitución de la personalidad de los niños.

La autora hace un barrido por la historia de las distintas sociedades humanas -incluyendo también muchas referencias a pri
Dec 13, 2015 Isaac rated it it was amazing
This is probably my pick for the one book every parent should read. Though a book of parenting strategies might be more practical, this one instead provides a subtle shift in what it actually means to be a parent.

Parents tend to think they shoulder the weight of their children's future in every action they make, but Harris makes a good argument that most of what will make that child who she is was either set before she was born or is formed with peers.

Accepting that makes it easier to see my chi
Davidson Maene
Jan 09, 2017 Davidson Maene rated it really liked it
An easy introduction to behavioral genetics and particularly, its consistent finding that parents have little to no impact on how their children turn out to be--once a study controls for genetic heritability. While the book did not teach me much I already did not know in that regard, I highly recommend it to any beginner.

The finding is shocking for many people; a cruel blow to the ego of parents everywhere. Towards the end, Judith does a wonderful job of showing the compassion of heredity: if yo
"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
Dec 30, 2008 Jeremy rated it really liked it
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
Amy Raby
Dec 24, 2014 Amy Raby rated it it was amazing
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
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Judith Rich Harris was born February 10, 1938, and spent the first part of her childhood moving around with her family from one part of the country to another. Her parents eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, where the climate permitted her father (invalided by an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis) to live in reasonable comfort. Harris graduated from Tucson High School and attende ...more
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“other words, if you want to know the truth about the emperor’s clothes, don’t ask the tailors.” 2 likes
“Developmentalists who specialize in doing the kind of research I just described are called socialization researchers. Socialization” 0 likes
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