Childhood Experience and the Onset of Menarche: A Test of a Sociobiological Model


  • This work was supported by USPHS grants MH43746 and MH45070 from the Antisocial and Violent Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health to Terrie Moffitt. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by grants from the Medical Research Council and the Health Research Council of New Zealand. Avshalom Caspi's work was supported by a Spencer Fellowship from the National Academy of Education. Jay Belsky was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development (R01HD15496). Appreciation is expressed to the interviewers who collected the data, and to the young New Zealanders who are members of the sample. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions. Ericka Overgard edited the manuscript and designed the graphics.

regarding this article may be addressed to Terrie E. Moffitt or Avshalom Caspi, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, 1202 West Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53706.


We tested predictions about psychosocial factors in the onset of menarche using data from a longitudinal study of 16-year-old girls. Belsky, Steinberg, and Draper have proposed a model that seeks to explain individual differences in maturational timing in terms of stressful childhood experiences. Their model hypothesizes that (1) individuals who grow up under conditions of family stress (2) experience behavioral and psychological problems which (3) provoke earlier reproductive readiness. In this study, the effect of family stressors on menarche was mediated by neither behavior problems nor weight, contrary to the predictions. However, the most provocative proposition advanced by Belsky et al. received empirical support. Family conflict and father absence in childhood predicted an earlier age of menarche, and these factors in combination with weight showed some evidence of an additive influence on menarche. A genetic inheritance model may provide a more parsimonious account of these data than does a conditional adaptation model derived from sociobiology.