Boys maturing earlier
It has been known for quite a while that girls are experiencing their first menstruation earlier and earlier. Whether the same thing was happening for boys however, has not been established: until now. A new study has found that boys are in fact maturing physically at an earlier age than ever before.
Researchers decided to address the issue of male maturity by analysing demographic data related to mortality and a phenomena dubbed the â€œaccident humpâ€.
When male hormone levels during puberty reach maximum levels the probability of dying jumps up dramatically, due largely to increases in risky and aggressive behaviour. This is called the â€œaccident humpâ€, exists across cultures, also happens among apes, and is well documented statistically.
The researchers found by examining their data that the accident hump shifted to an earlier age by two and a half months for each decade since the middle of the eighteenth century. So that means the age at which the accident hump has occurred drops by about two to two and a half years per century. If the accident hump signifies maximum hormone levels and therefore sexual maturity, then sexual maturity is also happening at an earlier age at the same rate.
Interestingly, in the last half a century the data is not as clear but the age of the accident hump appears to have stabilised in that time frame.
That means that being a male eighteen year old today is like being a male 22 year old from around 1800. The main causes of this shift in the accident hump are better nutrition, improved hygiene, and advances in medicine. It seems that the main drivers of the shift are biological since social changes like the availability of guns or cars did not coincide with any significant change in the data.
The importance of this is that the onset of biological and social adulthood are drifting apart. While adolescents become biological adults earlier their social and economic adulthood is beginning later. For more than half a century the age at which people marry, have children, start careers, and become financially independent has been rising.
On the one hand this all means that important decisions in life are being made at an increased distance from the recklessness of youth. What does it mean though for those nebulous years of wandering, when the body is developed but the social constructs are delayed? Thatâ€™s an issue for the social philosophers among you to ponder.
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