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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,483 ratings  ·  158 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 ...more
Paperback, 462 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Free Press (first published 1998)
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  1,483 ratings  ·  158 reviews


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Skylar Burris
Nov 02, 2009 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, theres good news, and then theres bad news. The good news is that there isnt much I can do to screw up my kid. The bad news is that theres 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-parents,
...more
Andrew Hill
Feb 10, 2012 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 ...more
K
Oct 15, 2007 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 Ive 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, Im not convinced.

Harris points out that much of the evidence for what she calls the
...more
Yousif Al Zeera
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, yz
This book is amazing. It completely (and breathtakingly) revolutionizes the way you think over parenting. Highly recommended by world renowned scientists like Steven Pinker and Robert Sapolsky.

The book was also a 1999 Pulitzer Prize finalist (general non-fiction).
Jurij Fedorov
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-books
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.

Pro:
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
...more
Joel
The main thesis of the book - that parents don't have much of an impact on the way children become socialized outside the home (that responsibility falls to the group they identify with) - was very compellingly argued and backed up with studies and reason, though I did think she belabours the point a little too much. The book could have been at least a hundred pages shorter. Personally, what I got the most out of this book was not a deeper understanding of theories of child development, but a ...more
Tania
Aug 20, 2011 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
...more
Graeme Newell
Dec 12, 2019 rated it liked it
An aging but still solid book that debates the nature vs nurture controversy. The author made some very good arguments and reveals a lot of data showing that the pendulum is swinging back from nurture to nature.

Her passion about the subject was admirable, but, for sure, this was one dry read. The book would have been much more readable had it relied more on real-world case studies than on dry recitations of research reports.
...more
Misty
Oct 08, 2008 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
Qwelian Tanner
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Nature Assumption details how personality is less contingent on parental oversight. It is rather disseminated through peer groups, as children interact in adolescent environments, with the addition of the child's home life, and the idiosyncrasies of genealogical make up.

Harris goes further by stating the belief in parents as sole contributors to the behavior of children is an error on part of sociologist, herself included, by making erroneous correlations based on preconceptions and
...more
Amith
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book aims to debunk the 'Nurture Assumption', which claims that how children turn out in life depends strongly on their home environment. The author, through her 'Group Socialization Theory' claims that the peer group that surrounds the kid as he/she grows up- the neighborhood, schoolmates is what shapes the child's personality and the parents have almost negligible influence on how he/she turns out.

The majority of the book is about how she weaves up the defense for her theory. She relies on
...more
Kathrynn
Dec 16, 2008 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
...more
Jon Tirsen
May 06, 2015 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
...more
The Laughing Man
Oct 19, 2016 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...
Roslyn
Sep 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives -- How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do, as the theory applies to parenting. Connected argued that you are or will become (to a certain degree) the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time: if you hang out with obese people, you will most likely become obese; if you hang out with people who smoke, you will probably start smoking; if you hang ...more
Aleksandra
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Evan Micheals
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Once or twice a year you read something so profound you know it will change the way you see world forever. It challenges assumptions you held as true, but the quality of what is written changes your mind. Judith Rich-Harris achieves this with this work. I first came across her work in B.R. Hergenhahns work An Introduction to the History of Psychology (Yes, I am a total nerd for reading a book with such a title). Hergenhahn mentioned a house wife book editor that wrote seminal works of ...more
Penni
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Abridged Audible edition
Tim
Mar 05, 2014 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
...more
Alex MacMillan
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
My momma say Tuck your chain, son, theyll take it. I hit her with one of them stale faces, like, Ill be damned momma, they know who I am momma, Im still your little boy but to them Im 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 parenting on
...more
Anika Tng
Mar 28, 2020 rated it did not like it
To sum up: this book is incredibly IRRITATING to read, for anyone who has previously read well researched, appropriately cited scientific literature.

Mrs Rich Harris' goal is to discredit the social psychology community of its research and conviction that parents have a significant influence over their child's personality. Mrs Rich Harris believes that the only perpetrators of significant influence on the child's personality, morals and behaviour are their peers.

My main criticism of this book
...more
Vesal
Aug 23, 2014 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
...more
Mariana
Dec 13, 2014 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
...more
Ellen Snyder
Feb 23, 2012 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. ...more
Cindy
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although it may be a bit outdated in terms of a Child Development perspective, it is very good about reminding parents that we can't always be what we once were to out children (it goes against the very core of the Attachment Theory). It reminds us that although they are our children, they can be more influenced by their peers and their times than we may be comfortable admitting. Although it may sound depressing to read (for a parent), it wasn't for me. It was a thought provoking argument that ...more
Sam
Jul 22, 2011 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 isnt quite accurate. Judith Harris does not claim that parents have little impact on their children's development; its 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 ...more
Billy
Apr 28, 2008 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.
Jayesh
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Contains an extraordinary range of observations as well as studies to support the idea that whatever parents do to their children is always overshadowed by the effect of the child's peers.

I was completely unaware that birth order effect on people's personality had so little empirical support. Psychology books really need to be updated.
Ietrio
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, thought
Simply the nerve to take head on the patriarchy and the so called common sense (in fact, a cultural construction) deserves the five stars. This is not new, see Alice Miller, but still very needed.
Oldroses
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!!
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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 ...more

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