Daughters of Divorce Grow up Fast
A surprising study by researchers at the University of Berkeley, California published Sept. 17 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that middle-class girls without fathers at home reach puberty earlier than those from similar background with a father in the house. The study monitored 440 girls from age’s six to eight for factors including weight, height, breast and pubic hair development, father’s presence and incomes.
The data clearly showed that in families with incomes of $50,000 or more a year, the absence of a father in the home meant daughters were twice as likely to experience the onset of puberty, while girls in lower-income, father-absent homes did not.
The study also found that the age for reaching puberty is getting younger in the United States. Although the average age of menstruation is currently at about 12 years for girls, the research found some American girls are beginning to develop breasts as early as age 7 or 8. This is not good news as early onset of puberty has been linked to emotional problems, substance use problems and earlier sexual activity as well. Girls that mature early have also been shown to face a higher risk of developing cancer later in life.
Some have suggested that affluent daughters are more negatively impacted by divorce because they lead more independent lives in the first place and do not have as much close support from their friends and family as girls from lower income homes might. Researchers also noted that while increased body weight and obesity can also change the age a girl reaches puberty, being overweight alone is not enough of a factor to explain the nationwide downward trend in the onset of puberty.
Sadly, the study confirms the fact that overall family composition, setting and structure has huge effects on dependent children in the home, especially girls, and the distress caused by a divorce can even go so far as to unbalance hormones and trigger the early onset of puberty.