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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,361 ratings  ·  146 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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Skylar Burris
Nov 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology, parenting
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,
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
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 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
Yousif Al Zeera
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Abridged Audible edition
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. Hergenhahn’s 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
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
Alex MacMillan
Feb 20, 2013 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
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
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
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
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
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 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 ...more
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.
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
It's nice to know that you can start blaming those "bad influences" pretty much as soon as you send your child to school.
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!!
VEL – The Contemporary Heretic
The notion that psychological traits, from personality and IQ to mental illness, are partly heritable (i.e. that individual differences in these traits are, in part, a consequence of genetic differences) has belatedly become the new orthodoxy.

On reflection, this is no surprise.

It was only in the mid-twentieth century that the curious notion arose that individual differences were entirely the product of environmental differences, and, even then, this delusion was largely restricted to
Samarth Bhaskar
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Nurture Assumption is a fascinating, meticulous, well supported non-fiction account of why our cultural obsession with the importance of parenting is misplaced and unsupported by evidence. Judith Rich Harris' commitment to the scientific method, especially the concept of the null hypothesis and its rejection, is commendable. The added detail about her personal story as a one-time psychology grad student, turned home-maker and textbook writer, coming out with a book that fundamentally ...more
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
Ruxandra Ioana
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Miri Niedrauer
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: information
It’s rare indeed that a single book can completely change any of my fundamental beliefs.

I don’t have kids of my own, but grew up in an unusual situation. As most of society does, I’ve always felt justified in placing some blame on my childhood for many problems I’ve faced as an adult. I’ve also looked at acquaintances from bad family situations and been quick to blame their mental health issues or abusive tendencies on parental treatment.

Reading this book with an open mind forces one to
Ruth Eng
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read the first edition some years ago and was intrigued by it. This updated version does not change the author's premise that parents' influence over their children is not as broad as mainstream thinking presents it. The book is well written, and her reasoning and arguments are good food for thought. However, as a mother, along with most parents I know, we still believe it is our responsibility to instill solid values to our offspring. The book can be mistakenly taken to sound as if this ...more
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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
“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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