Across nonhuman species, pubertal timing is affected by the social environment, with consequences for reproductive success and behavior. In human beings, variations in pubertal timing have not been systematically examined in relation to social environmental antecedents, although their psychological consequences are well documented. This paper focuses on links in human beings between pubertal timing and the childhood social environment, with several sections: A review of studies relating pubertal timing to the family context, a key aspect of the social environment; challenges in studying the issue; and opportunities for future work that takes advantage of and creates links with evidence in other species. The review shows that pubertal timing in girls is accelerated by adversity in aspects of the early family social context, with effects small in size; data in boys are not sufficient to enable conclusions. Inferences from existing studies are limited by variations in conceptualizations and measurement of relevant aspects of puberty and of the family social environment, and by methodological issues (e.g., reliance on existing data, use of retrospective reports, nonrandom missing data). Open questions remain about the nature, mechanisms, and specificity of the links between early family social environment and pubertal timing (e.g., form of associations, consideration of absence of positive experiences, role of timing of exposure). Animal studies provide a useful guide for addressing these questions, by delineating potential hormonal mechanisms that underlie links among social context, pubertal timing, and behavior, and encouraging attention to aspects of the social environment outside the family, especially peers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience