From the essay: 'Professors Mark Hanson and Peter Gluckman published their review of the evolution of puberty in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism (Jan. 2006). The authors discuss the various adaptive mechanisms that may influence the early or late onset of puberty and menstruation in human beings, and argue that modern life has allowed a return to the developmental pattern evolved for hunter-gatherer societies.
Over the past 100 years there has been a marked trend for a reduction in the age of menarche. In populations of Northern European origin, the age of menarche is now approximately three years earlier than it was 100 years ago. The trend, write Hanson and Gluckman, “is generally interpreted as being a reflection of improved nutrition and reduced infection in childhood over the past two centuries”. Significantly, the influence of such environmental factors is delimited – puberty will not continue to arrive ever earlier in childhood. The age at which it will ‘naturally’ occur is evolutionarily hard-wired.
The authors write: “We propose that human females evolved to enter puberty at a relatively young age and progressed to reproductive competence at 11-13 years of age. This would have matched the degree of psychosocial maturation necessary to function as an adult in Paleolithic society based on small groups of hunter-gatherers.
.. For the first time in our evolutionary history, biological puberty in females significantly precedes, rather than being matched to, the age of successful functioning as an adult. This mismatch between the age of biological and psychosocial maturation constitutes a fundamental issue for modern society. Our social structures have been developed in the expectation of longer childhood, prolonged education and training, and later reproductive competence. This emerging mismatch creates fundamental pressures on contemporary adolescents and on how they live in society.”
Evolution, Development and Timing of Puberty by Peter D. Gluckmana and Mark A. Hanson. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism Volume 17, Issue 1, January 2006.
Page Title: 'Puberty: Girls and Boys (Teen) Sexual Development
to Adulthood. Breasts, Erections, Menstration, Hair, Education'.
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