Early menarche and problem behaviors in adolescent girls


Dr. Pamela Salsberry, Department of Nursing
Rank at time of award: Associate Professor
Dr. Patricia Reagan, Department of Economics
Rank at time of award: Professor
Dr. Elizabeth Cookesey, Department of Sociology
Rank at time of award: Associate Professor
Dr. Bo Lu, College of Public Health, Biostatistics
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor



Early  menarche  has  consistently  been  associated  with  problem  behaviors  in girls  (Burt, McGue, DeMarte, Krueger, & Iacono, 2006), yet the underlying mechanisms of this association are poorly understood. The most frequently offered explanation is that early maturing girls tend to associate with  older peers, particularly with older boys  (Stattin & Magnusson, 1990). This hypothesis, which we refer to as the Menarche-Only  Theory,   has received  partial support (Caspi,  Lynam, Moffitt, & Silva, 1993; Ge, Brody, Conger,  Simons,  &  Murry,  2002),   but  studies   have  been  limited   by  methodological   problems:  the retrospective   collection  of  menarcheal   timing;  inter-study  differences   in  how  problem  behaviors  are defined; a focus on age of first sexual intercourse as the only problem behavior; and failure to measure the effects of socio-demographic  factors. Moreover, the Menarche-Only Theory, proposes a causal relationship between  timing  of  menarche  and  problem  behavior  in girls.  It is quite  possible that  their  association  is caused  by a factor common to both or that toddler and latency age problem behavior in girls causes early menarche.
The  Psychosocial  Acceleration  Theory  proposed  by Ellis  and colleagues  (Belsky,  Steinberg,  & Draper, 1991; Ellis, 2004) can be used to develop an alternative  model.   According to this theory, a girl's exposure to stressful family environments  within the first five years of life communicates  to her developing brain  that  measures  need  to  be taken  to  insure  early  reproduction.  Early  exposure  activates  the  stress response system and facilitates the depositing  of body fat thus leading to early menarche. Stressful family environments  have  been  operationalized  as single  parent families,  those  with  family  conflict,  or where divorce  occurs.  The  psychosocial  acceleration   hypothesis  does  not  offer  an  explanation  for  problem behavior, however, although the types of conditions listed as constituting family stress are ones strongly associated  with  risk-taking  behaviors  and  delinquency,  no  matter  when  the  age  of  onset    (Swahn  & Donovan, 2004).  The psychosocial acceleration hypothesis may offer an explanation of the early menarche/female  problem  behavior  association  but testing  this theory  has been difficult.    Many  studies collect all data retrospectively,  including age of menarche, few studies actually evaluate the quality of the home and family, relying instead on recall, or surrogate variables such as absence of father.

Specific  Aims:

The overall aim of this  pilot study is to nest the Menarche-Only Theory  within the more general Psychosocial  Acceleration Theory to test whether, controlling for the timing of menarche, there is an independent effect of childhood behavior problems (as measured by the Behavior Problem Index at ages 6-9) on adolescent behavior problems measured at ages 10-14


Publications resulting from this seed grant 

Reagan, PB, Salsberry, PJ, Fang, M, Gardner, W and Pajer, K. (2012) African-American/White Differences in the Age of Menarche:Accounting for the Difference.  Social Science & Medicine.  Volume 75, Issue 7, October 2012, Pages 1263–1270.  PMCID: PMC3407312

  Salsberry, PJ, Reagan, PD, Fang, MZ. (2013) Disparities in Women's Health across a Generation: A Mother-Daughter Comparison. Journal of Women’s Health, 22(7), 617-624. PMCID: PMC3704119