July 1995 Vol. 102, No. 3, 458-489
© 1995 by the American Psychological Association
For personal use onlynot for distribution
Where Is the Child 's Environment? A Group Socialization Theory of Development
Judith Rich Harris
Middletown, New Jersey
Do parents have any important long-term effects on the development of their child 's personality? This article examines the evidence and concludes that the answer is no. A new theory of development is proposed: that socialization is context-specific and that outside-the-home socialization takes place in the peer groups of childhood and adolescence. Intra- and intergroup processes, not dyadic relationships, are responsible for the transmission of culture and for environmental modification of children 's personality characteristics. The universality of children 's groups explains why development is not derailed by the wide variations in parental behavior found within and between societies.
In 1983, after many dozens of pages spent reviewing the literature on the effects parents have on children, Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin paused for a critical overview of the field of socialization research. They questioned the size and robustness of the effects they had just summarized; they wondered whether the number of significant correlations was greater than that expected by chance. They cited other research indicating that biological or adoptive siblings do not develop similar personalities as a result of being reared in the same household. This was their conclusion:
These findings imply strongly that there is very little impact of the physical environment that parents provide for children and very little impact of parental characteristics that must be essentially the same for all children in a family
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