Explanatory Models of Female Pubertal Timing: Discordances Between Cultural Models of Maturation and the Recollection and Interpretation of Personal Developmental Experiences
- 317 Downloads
Given the ambiguity surrounding the source of the continuing trend toward earlier menarche observed in Westernized nations, several competing explanatory models have emerged regarding variation in pubertal timing. While a biomedical model proposes that predominantly constitutional characteristics shape the maturation timetable, an alternative framework derived from Life History Theory (LHT) evolutionary principles emphasizes the influence of psychosocial factors on development. Working with a sample of women 19–25 years of age (N = 103) drawn from two Southeastern U.S. colleges, we combined cultural consensus analysis with retrospective self-report regarding childhood stress and menarcheal timing to investigate whether reported developmental experiences align with cultural models regarding factors that should drive pubertal timing. Results suggest a robust cultural model consistent with a biomedical framework concentrating principally on constitutional characteristics. However, participants’ personal developmental recollections support an association between higher childhood stress and earlier menarche. These findings support LHT predictions that early reproductive maturation is an evolutionary adaptive response to chronic childhood stress as well as clarify the extent to which cultural models of factors contributing to puberty concord with developmental experiences.
KeywordsAdolescent development Stress Menarche Cultural models Life History Theory
Many thanks to Vernon Knight, Ph.D., Christopher Lynn, Ph.D., Allen Maxwell, Ph.D., Debra Nelson-Gardell, Ph.D., Kathryn Oths, Ph.D., and Milady Murphy, M.S., Ed.D., for their enormously helpful feedback and critique regarding this work. The present research was funded by a University of Alabama Graduate Council Research Fellowship.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interest.
- Annandale, Ellen 2002 The sociology of health and medicine, A critical introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- Bernard, H. Russell 2005 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, 4th ed. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
- Chisholm, James S. 1996 The evolutionary ecology of attachment organization. Human Nature 7(1):1.Google Scholar
- Hillard, Paula J. Adams 2008 Menstruation in adolescents: What’s normal? Medscape Journal of Medicine 10(12): 295.Google Scholar
- Mishra, Gita D., Rachel Cooper, Sarah E. Tom, and Diana Kuh 2009 Early life circumstances and their impact on menarche and menopause. Women’s Health 5(2):175.Google Scholar
- Neuner, Frank, Claudia Catani, Martina Ruf, Elisabeth Schauer, Maggie Schauer, and Thomas Elbert 2008 Narrative exposure therapy for the treatment of traumatized children and adolescents (KidNET): From neurocognitive theory to field intervention. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 17(3):641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Parent, Anne-Simone, Grete Teilmann, Anders Juul, Niels E. Skakkebaek, Jorma Toppari, and Jean-Pierre Bourguignon 2003 The timing of normal puberty and the age limits of sexual precocity: Variations around the world, secular trends, and changes after migration. Endocrine Reviews 24(5):668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Surbey, Michele K. 1990 Family composition, stress, and the timing of human menarche. In Socioendocrinology of Primate Reproduction. Toni E. Ziegler and Fred B. Bercovitch, eds., p. 11. New York: Wiley-Liss.Google Scholar
- Van der Kolk, Bessel A., and Onno Van der Hart 1991 The intrusive past: The flexibility of memory and the engraving of trauma. American Imago 48(4):425.Google Scholar
- Wierson, Michelle, Patricia J. Long, and Rex L. Forehand 1993 Toward a new understanding of early menarche: The role of environmental stress in pubertal timing. Adolescence 28(112):913.Google Scholar
- Worthman, Carol M. 1999 Evolutionary perspectives on the onset of puberty. In Evolutionary Medicine. Wanda R. Trevathan, Euclid O. Smith, and James J. McKenna, eds., p. 135. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar