Family composition and age at menarche. Findings from the International Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study

Candace Currie, Martin Steppan, Juliet McEachran, Ross Whitehead

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Background: Early menarche has been associated with father absence, stepfather presence and adverse health consequences in later life. This presentation assesses associations of different family compositions with age at menarche.
Pathways that may explain any association between family characteristics and pubertal timing are explored.
Methods: Cross-sectional international data on age at menarche, family structure and covariates (age, psychosomatic complaints,
media consumption, physical activity) were collected from the 2009–10 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study. The sample focuses on 15-year-old girls, comprising 36,175 individuals across 40 countries in Europe and North America (N¿=¿21,075 for age at menarche). The study examined the association of different family characteristics with age at menarche. Regression and path analyses were applied, incorporating multilevel techniques to adjust for the nested nature of data within countries. Results: Living with a mother (Cohen’s d¿=¿0.12), father (d¿=¿0.08), brothers (d¿=¿0.04) and sisters (d¿=¿0.06) are independently associated with later age at menarche. Living in a foster home (d¿=¿-0.16), with ‘someone else’ (d¿=¿-0.11), a stepmother (d¿=¿-0.10) or stepfather (d¿=¿-0.06) was associated with earlier menarche. Path
models show that up to 89% of these effects can be explained through lifestyle and psychological variables.
Conclusions: Earlier menarche is reported among those with living conditions other than a family consisting of two biological parents. This can partly be explained by girls in these families having a higher Body Mass Index, which is a biological determinant of early menarche. Lower physical activity and elevated psychosomatic complaints were also more often found in girls in these family environments.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2019


  • menarche, family structure,


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