For the skeptics: The research on dads’ influence on girls’ puberty

Several people took issue (some in an unfortunately hostile way) with my post that mentioned research showing that girls with involved biological fathers start puberty later than those with a non-biological father or no father at all. So to satisfy the critics, here are several citations that should satisfy your inner (and not-so-inner) skeptic.

  • Fathers Influence on Daughters Puberty,  by Karen Davis-Johnson. Posted April 5, 2011. Davis-Johnson is the editor of the Journal of Father-Daughter Communication.
  • “Quality of Early Family Relationships and Individual Differences in the Timing of Pubertal Maturation in Girls: A Longitudinal Test of an Evolutionary Model. “ Bruce J. Ellis, Steven McFadyen-Ketchum, Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, and John E. Bates. Journal of  Personal and Social Psychology. 1999 August; 77(2): 387–401.Abstract: In an 8-year prospective study of 173 girls and their families, the authors tested predictions from J. Belsky, L., and P. Draper’s (1991) evolutionary model of individual differences in pubertal timing. This model suggests that more negative-coercive (or less positive-harmonious) family relationships in early childhood provoke earlier reproductive development in adolescence. Consistent with the model, fathers’ presence in the home, more time spent by fathers in child care, greater supportiveness in the parental dyad, more father– daughter affection, and more mother–daughter affection, as assessed prior to kindergarten, each predicted later pubertal timing by daughters in 7th grade. The positive dimension of family relationships, rather than the negative dimension, accounted for these relations. In total, the quality of fathers’ investment in the family emerged as the most important feature of the proximal family environment relative to daughters’ pubertal timing. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
  • “Impact of fathers on daughters’ age at menarche: A genetically and environmentally controlled sibling study.” Jacqueline M. Tither, Bruce J. Ellis. Developmental Psychology, Vol 44(5), Sep 2008, 1409-1420.Abstract: Girls growing up in homes without their biological fathers tend to go through puberty earlier than their peers. Whereas evolutionary theories of socialization propose that this relation is causal, it could arise from environmental or genetic confounds. To distinguish between these competing explanations, the authors used a genetically and environmentally controlled sibling comparison design to examine the effects of differential exposure to family disruption/father absence in a community sample of sister pairs. As specified by evolutionary causal theories, younger sisters had earlier menarche than their older sisters in biologically disrupted families (n = 68) but not biologically intact families (n = 93). This effect was superseded, however, by a large moderating effect of paternal dysfunction. Younger sisters from disrupted families who were exposed to serious paternal dysfunction in early childhood attained menarche 11 months earlier than either their older sisters or other younger sisters from disrupted families who were not exposed to such dysfunction. These data suggest that early exposure to disordered paternal behavior, followed by family disruption and residential separation from the father, can lead to substantially earlier menarche. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
  • “Psychosocial Antecedents of Variation in Girls’ Pubertal Timing: Maternal Depression, Stepfather Presence, and Marital and Family Stress.”  Bruce J. Ellis,  Judy Garber. Child Development. Volume 71, Issue 2, pages 485–501, March/April 2000.Abstract: Drawing on Belsky, Steinberg, and Draper’s evolutionary theory of the development of reproductive strategies, we tested a model of individual differences in girls’ pubertal timing. This model posits that a history of psychopathology in mothers results in earlier pubertal maturation in daughters, and that this effect is mediated by discordant family relationships and father absence/stepfather presence. The model was supported in a short-term longitudinal study of 87 adolescent girls. In the primary test of the model, it was found that a history of mood disorders in mothers predicted earlier pubertal timing in daughters, and this relation was fully mediated by dyadic stress and biological father absence. In families in which the mother’s romantic partner was not the biological father, dyadic stress accounted for almost half of the variation in daughters’ pubertal timing. Stepfather presence, rather than biological father absence, best accounted for earlier pubertal maturation in girls living apart from their biological fathers. We propose that stepfather presence and stressful family relationships constitute separate paths to early pubertal maturation in girls.

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