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22 August 2011
Boys reaching puberty earlier than ever
by George Atkinson

Research from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research suggests that boys are maturing physically earlier than ever. The age of sexual maturity has been decreasing by about 2.5 months each decade since the middle of the 18th century, notes demographer Joshua Goldstein. What had already been established for girls now seems to also be true for boys: the time period during which young people are sexually mature but socially not yet considered adults is expanding.

"The reason for earlier maturity for boys, as with girls, is probably because nutrition and disease environments are getting more favorable," says Goldstein. It has long been documented by medical records that girls are experiencing their first menstruation earlier and earlier. But comparable data analysis for boys did not exist. Goldstein resolved this gap by studying demographic data related to mortality.

In respect to the developmental stage of the body "being 18 today is like being 22 in 1800," says Goldstein. He sees the main causes as better nutrition and an improved resilience against diseases. Because the decline began long before the intervention of the automobile (accompanied by a high risk of accident) it appears that the shift in age of maturity is biological, and not related to technological advancements or social activities.

Goldstein adds that while adolescents become adults earlier in a biological sense, they reach adulthood later regarding their social and economic roles. He quotes other research that shows that for more than half a century the age at which people marry, have children and become financially independent from their parents continues to rise. "Important decisions in life are being made with an increasing distance from the recklessness of youth," he noted.

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Source: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

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