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J Youth Adolesc. 2015 Apr;44(4):922-39. doi: 10.1007/s10964-015-0255-7. Epub 2015 Feb 17.

Clarifying the associations between age at menarche and adolescent emotional and behavioral problems.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 47405, USA,


Better understanding risk factors for the development of adolescent emotional and behavioral problems can help with intervention and prevention efforts. Previous studies have found that an early menarcheal age predicts several adolescent problems, including depressive symptoms, delinquency, and early age at first intercourse. Few studies, nevertheless, have explicitly tested (a) whether the associations with menarcheal age vary across racial/ethnic groups or (b) whether the sources of the associations are within-families (i.e., consistent with a direct, causal link) or only between-families (i.e., due to selection or confounding factors). The current study analyzed data from a nationally representative US Sample of females (N = 5,637). We examined whether race/ethnicity moderated the associations between early menarche and several adolescent problems by using multiple-group analyses and we examined the degree to which genetic and environmental factors shared by family members account for the associations by comparing sisters and cousins with differing menarcheal ages. Menarcheal age predicted subsequent depressive symptoms, delinquency, and early age at first intercourse in the population. The magnitudes of the associations were similar across all racial/ethnic groups for all outcomes. The within-family associations (i.e., when comparing siblings and cousins with different menarcheal age) were large and statistically significant when predicting early intercourse, but not the other outcomes. The findings suggest that selection or confounding factors account for the associations between menarcheal age and subsequent depressive symptoms and delinquency, whereas the independent association between menarcheal age and early age at first intercourse is consistent with a direct, causal effect.

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