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January 15, 2004
Peers over parents

I have been prioritising Samizdata, so please forgive the slimness of postings here of late.

One thing I just put up there is of definite relevance to this blog, which is this short but informative review of Judith Rich Harris' book The Nurture Assumption.

What this says is that children turn out the way they do because of their peer group, rather than because of how they are raised by their own parents.

Come to think of it, this is something that distraught parents have been yelling at the tops of their voices for years, and once someone says it, the evidence for it jumps out at you from all around. Anxiously virtuous West Indian mums doing their anxiously virtuous best, and ending up with a weapon-wielding gang member. Fifties parents giving birth to a generation of sixties children, who in their turn raised the Punk Generation. Obvious really.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
Category: Parents and children

I know this is going to sound obvious, and I won't be reading the book, but: surely both parents and peer group have influences of different kinds, at different times, and not at all in easily measurable ways.

Also the book is a sociology text correcting sociological assumptions, which seems a bit... oxymoronic, to me. Maybe sociologists have underestimated the influence of peers as opposed to parents but... does that matter? And how can we possibly measure and assign causes to "the way children turn out" when we still understand so little about how it happens?

Comment by: Alice Bachini on January 16, 2004 08:22 PM


If sociological assumptions counted for nothing, then you'd be right, but if as a result of them, governments blame parents for the misdeeds of their children to the point of fining parents for said misdeeds, when actually these misdeeds are not the fault of the parents, then surely it does matter.

My understanding of government policy is that it almost always involves a desperate search for "evidence" and through "the literature", a desperate calling in of "experts" as un-inadequate as they can dig up, a search in anything, to find out what the hell to do. Unless the politicians have already decided of course. So, sociology may have damn little to say to the general public, but it can still make a big impact. And so, by extension, can sociology which merely corrects previous and false assumptions by other sociologists.

In general, if parents find themselves surrounded by blame (not just from governments but from neighbours, for example) rather than sympathy when their children (e.g.) go crazy, than that could cause definite and undeserved unhappiness.

I'm not saying that parents are automatically blameless for their children's misdeeds, but if they get blamed too much, that surely matters. Certainly to them.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on January 16, 2004 08:36 PM
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