Paper Backs Nurture Assumption

May 9, 2007

A paper (pdf) was published that backs Judith Harris’ Nurture Assumption hypothesis.

This paper studies whether prosocial values are transmitted from parents to their children. We do so through an economic experiment, in which a group of families play a standard public goods game. The experimental data presents us with a surprising result. We find no significant correlation between the degree of cooperation of a child and that of his or her parents. Such lack of cooperation is robust across age groups, sex, family size and different estimation strategies. This contrasts with the typical assumption made by the theoretical economic literature on the inter-generational transmission of values. The absence of correlation between parents’ and children’s behavior, however, is consistent with part of the psychological literature, which emphasizes the importance of peer effects in the socialization process.

The Nurture Assumption states says that children’s personalities are 50% genetic and 50% social, however, the 50% social is from peers and 0% is from parents (i.e. the family environment).

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen