• menarche;
  • heritability;
  • Fels Longitudinal Study


Menarche is the hallmark maturational event of female childhood. Many studies indicated a significant genetic contribution to the timing of the onset of menstruation, but most of these studies were limited by the use of retrospective data and by the use of data from only certain types of relatives (i.e., mothers and daughters, sisters, or twin sisters). The primary goal of this study was to use a modern maximum likelihood quantitative genetic method to estimate the heritability (h2) of age at menarche, using familial data collected over the course of the 74-year-old Fels Longitudinal Study. The secondary goal was to review earlier studies of the heritability of age at menarche. The study of the heritability of age at menarche presented here is unique for two reasons. First, because of the Fels Longitudinal Study's serial design, age-at-menarche data were collected prospectively from most participants. Second, because the Fels Longitudinal Study is a family study that has been conducted for decades, age-at-menarche data are available from many types of female relatives spanning multiple households and generations. The best-fitting and most parsimonious quantitative genetic model included provision for a secular decrease in age at menarche, and estimated the h2 of age at menarche to be 0.49 ± 0.13 (95% confidence interval of h2, = 0.24–0.73). The results of this study are in general agreement with the findings of most previous studies of genetic influences on age at menarche, and suggest that it is reasonable to consider it well-established that approximately half the phenotypic variation among girls from developed nations in the timing of menarche is due to genetic factors. Am J Phys Anthropol 128:210-219, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.