On the developmental significance of female pubertal timing
Sammanfattning: Puberty is the process of becoming sexually mature and it has fundamental somatic and psychosocial implications. The focus of this dissertation was the short and long term developmental significance, concerning both soma et psyche, of female pubertal timing. Four studies were designed to accomplish these aims. Six samples of different ages from different countries and from different time points, comprising several thousand females some of which were followed longitudinally, were used. Age at menarche was used as the primary measure of pubertal maturation. The first main aim of this dissertation was to explore the mechanisms that might explain the well-established link between female pubertal timing and problem behavior, and to identify contextual conditions at which associations are stronger or weaker. Existing explanations are unsatisfactory and little is known about conditions that might affect the strength of the associations.In Paper I, we tested and confirmed a peer socialization hypothesis as a satisfactory explanation for the link between early puberty and problematic adjustment. In short, this hypothesis posits that early developing girls associate with older peers and boyfriends because they feel more mature than their same age peers, and through these peers and boyfriends the early developed girls are channeled into more socially advanced behaviors, including normbreaking. This should be particularly true in contexts where heterosexual relationships are sanctioned and where there is an abundance of deviant youth. In Paper II, I used a biopsychosocial approach and studied pubertal timing along with self-perceptions of maturity and early romantic relationships. The findings revealed that early puberty had very different implications depending on the psychological and social contexts in which it was embedded. For instance, when early puberty was coupled with feeling mature and having early romantic relationships, it was associated with adjustment problems. When early puberty was coupled with neither, it was not linked to particularly high levels of problem behavior.In stark contrast to the vast literature on the role of female pubertal timing in adolescence, the literature on long-term implications is remarkably limited. For this reason, the second main aim of this dissertation was to study the adult implications of female pubertal timing. In Papers III and IV, we examined long term implications of pubertal timing, particularly as it relates to somatic development. The findings suggested that pubertal timing does have future implications for women’s body perception and composition, with early developing females having higher body mass indexes in adulthood, but only under certain circumstances. The findings of this dissertation help further understanding of the soma et psyche implications of female pubertal timing. They indicate that pubertal timing has concurrent and future implications. It seems, however, that timing is not everything. The developmental significance of female pubertal timing appears to be very different under different contextual conditions. Thus, it is only when girls’ psychological and social contexts are considered that fruitful predictions can be made. As such, the findings have important implications for prevention, policy, and practice.
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