Explanatory Models of Female Pubertal Timing: Discordances Between Cultural Models of Maturation and the Recollection and Interpretation of Personal Developmental Experiences
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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.