Growing Up Too Fast

Early onset of puberty spells trouble in Montreal, just as it does in Minneapolis. Underscoring the role of family structure in fostering early puberty, a study by scholars at the University of British Columbia and the University of New Brunswick merits attention as “the first Canadian study to have examined the impact of family context on pubertal development.” To determine how social background affects the timing of puberty, the Canadian scholars parse nationally representative data collected between 1994 and 2001. When these researchers focus on the relationship between family structure and early onset of puberty, they find that “the likelihood of having entered puberty by age 13 is influenced by the presence of a stepfather in the house for both boys and girls” (p.05). These findings align with studies in the United States that “suggest that the presence of a stepfather predicts earlier pubertal onset.” The researchers calculate that living in a single-parent home produces only “non-significant effects” on early pubertal timing. This finding is “inconsistent” with earlier American studies highlighting significant effects of single parenting on early puberty. But then the Canadians frankly acknowledge that the effects of single parenting would likely have been stronger in their own study had they not used a statistical model that artificially segregated out the effects of household income and parental education. After all, low household income and low parental education are “strong correlates of single parenting.” At a time when skyrocketing divorce rates have multiplied the number of single-parent households and stepfamilies on both sides of the border, sober observers have reason to worry about how fractured family life is pushing young Canadians and young Americans into early puberty. “Early puberty,” the authors remind their readers, “has been associated with substance use, earlier sexual activity, and mental health prob
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