“Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal?” in the New York Times Magazine

Upon reading this arresting article by Elizabeth Weil about some girls entering puberty today before the age of 10, I thought it valuable to place the issue in an historical perspective. Weil reviews a 1970s study finding that the average age of menarche takes place between 12.5 and 12.8. Later, she cites a 1960 study of institutionalized British children concluding: “Puberty began, on average, for [these institutionalized] girls at age 11.” But Weil does not place this material in as broad a historical context as she might.

In his 1992 book entitled Today’s Children, David A. Hamburg, M.D., then president of the Carnegie Institute, wrote: “The onset of menstruation, on average, occurs at twelve and a half years in the United States, whereas 150 years ago the average age of menarche was sixteen.”1 In short, within the arc of U.S. history, when it comes to sexual development, girls have been maturing earlier for more than a century and a half. This precocious maturation has probably been so gradual that it has caught us unaware.

Read the rest at PsychologyToday.com.


1 David Hamburg, Today’s Children: Creating a Future for a Generation in Crisis (New York: Times Books, 1992), 182.