Early puberty may mean less time in education for girls

August 9, 2017, Imperial College London
Credit: Jourden C/public domain

The age at which girls have their first period may influence how long they stay in education.

The findings come from a study in which researchers have tried to untangle the effect of the age at first period from other complex factors that might affect time spent in education, revealing that young who start their periods earlier may spend less time in the education system.

Previous research has indicated girls who reach sexual maturity earlier may be more prone to developing depression and, in low and , more vulnerable to early pregnancy and negative sexual , but whether it affects how long they spend in education was unclear.

Studies trying to pick apart the link between the age at which a girl has her first period—called menarche—and how long they spend in education can be muddied by numerous factors, including obesity, socio-economic status, and parental education level.

Now, a team led by researchers at Imperial College London has tried to untangle this complex relationship by turning to as a proxy for the age of first period. Using a statistical method called Mendelian randomization, they attempted to remove the influence of external factors such as diet and lifestyle—which are known to be associated with both early menarche and less time in education.

By using genetic markers known to be associated with menarche, the researchers have revealed an impact of the age of first menstruation on the amount of time spent in education.

"It's well established that the length of time that someone spends in education can have repercussions later on in life," said Dr Dipender Gill, a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow at Imperial and lead author of the study. "It is associated with , rates of depression, risk-taking behaviour and a range of health outcomes, so clearly time spent in education is important. This study identifies that the age of puberty may have an effect on the length of time that women spend in education."

In the study, published in the journal Behaviour Genetics, researchers looked at data from more than 180,000 European women, where 122 points in the genome where a single 'letter' difference in the DNA—called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)—were associated with the onset of menstruation in girls.

The effects of these markers on time spent in education were then estimated using a separate dataset including more than 118,000 women over the age of 30 and of European descent, where participants had provided the number of years spent in education.

Analysis revealed a small but statistically significant causal link between markers for age at menarche and the length of time women spent in education. The findings showed that on average, starting menstruation one year later was associated with approximately an additional 53 days spent in education.

According to the researchers, one possible explanation for the observed effect could be due to being treated as more mature due to physical changes, while their emotional development takes time to catch up. Such a delay between physical and mental maturation may give rise to factors which lead to less time spent in education, such as increased risk-taking behaviour, or a failure to adapt psychologically to changes in how they are treated.

The group reports that the data could be skewed by women self-reporting the age they had their first period. In addition, the extended age ranges of women in the study group—born over nine decades (1901 to 1989)—overlaps with societal changes and the establishment of educational programmes. They add that the findings cannot be used to predict how long a young woman might stay in education, based on her age at her first period.

According to the researchers, now that a link has been established, the next step is to work out why age of menarche is having such an effect.

"Once we understand the mechanism, it might give us the opportunity address the discrepancies that we're seeing," explained Dr Gill.

"Going through puberty is associated with various physiological and psychological changes," he adds. "It might be that girls who go through puberty earlier are less well-equipped to deal with the pressures. They may be suffering as a result and this might be manifest in the length of time that they spend in school."

'Age at menarche and time spent in : a Mendelian Randomization study' by Gill, D. et al, is published in the journal Behavior Genetics.

Explore further: Girls more likely to have sex, take sexual risks, and marry young if they menstruate early

More information: D. Gill et al, Age at Menarche and Time Spent in Education: A Mendelian Randomization Study, Behavior Genetics (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s10519-017-9862-2

Related Stories

Girls more likely to have sex, take sexual risks, and marry young if they menstruate early

June 7, 2017
The timing of a girl's first menstruation may affect her first sexual encounter, first pregnancy, and her vulnerability to some sexually transmitted infections, according to a meta-analysis by researchers at Columbia University ...

Possible link between early menstruation and stroke risk

February 7, 2017
Women who started menstruating early in life could later face a higher risk of stroke.

Low vitamin D linked to earlier first menstruation, a risk factor for health problems throughout life

August 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A study links low vitamin D in young girls with early menstruation, which is a risk factor for a host of health problems for teen girls as well as women later in life.

New study finds girls feel unprepared for puberty

January 4, 2017
Girls from low-income families in the U.S. are unprepared for puberty and have largely negative experiences of this transition, according to researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Johns ...

A country's level of education correlates well with life expectancy at birth

June 7, 2016
The level of education in a given country correlates well with life expectancy at birth, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning. The researchers suggest that educating the ...

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.