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Intergenerational context discontinuity affects the onset of puberty

A comparison of parent-child dyads in West and East Germany


The assumption that the onset of puberty is a context-sensitive marker of a reproductive strategy is tested by comparing parental and filial childhood context and somatic development in West and East Germany. Sixty-eight mother-daughter dyads and 35 father-son dyads were taken from two samples of families from Osnabrück in West Germany and Halle in East Germany. According to the observed context discontinuity between the generations in the male dyads, linear regression models show that no indicator of male sexual maturation was influenced significantly by the somatic development of the father. Instead of an inherited timing of maturation, antecedent distal factors like socioeconomic childhood context variables and critical life events lead to an acceleration of male sexual maturation. Finally we test the effect of two different conditions of childhood context continuity on daughter’s age at menarche with maternal age at menarche controlled. Linear regression models show that mother’s age at menarche predicts daughter’s age at menarche only under the condition of contextual continuity between generations, which was the case in the West German sample only. In East Germany, where mother’s age at menarche had no significant effect, the amount of variance explained by childhood context variables was almost the same. These results indicate the context sensitivity of somatic development which seems to follow an evolutionary rationale.

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Correspondence to Athanasios Chasiotis.

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This study and the validation of the scales and measures used in it were supported by two grants of the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) to Heidi Keller (Az. Ke 263/24-1 and Az. Ke 263/26-1).

Athanasios Chasiotis is a research assistant in developmental psychology at the University of Osnabrück. His current research interests include the application of behavioral ecological models on human development and evolutionary life-span developmental psychology.

David Scheffer is a research assistant and Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at the University of Osnabrück. His main interests are in the developmental determinants and consequences of social motivation from an evolutionary perspective.

Ramona Restemeier is a developmental psychologist. She worked as a research assistant at the University of Osnabrück and is currently working as a psychotherapist. She is mainly interested in the evolutionary implications for developmental psychopathology.

Heidi Keller is a professor of psychology at the University of Osnabrück. Her current research interests include early socialization patterns in cross-cultural comparison and sociobiological models in developmental psychology.

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Chasiotis, A., Scheffer, D., Restemeier, R. et al. Intergenerational context discontinuity affects the onset of puberty. Hum Nat 9, 321–339 (1998).

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Key words

  • Childhood context
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Germany
  • Intergenerational continuity
  • Menarche
  • Onset of puberty
  • Reproductive strategy
  • Spermarche