New research finds boys are maturing physically earlier than ever before, just as girls are. That has meant a widening gap between biological adulthood and social and economic maturity.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute said the age of sexual maturity among boys has been decreasing by about 2.5 months each decade at least since the middle of the 18th century.
“The reason for earlier maturity for boys, as with girls, is probably because nutrition and disease environments are getting more favorable for it,” said demographer Joshua Goldstein.
It has long been documented by medical records that girls are experiencing their first menstruation earlier and earlier. But comparable data analysis for boys has been difficult.
Goldstein resolved this gap by studying demographic data related to mortality.
Researchers have learned that when male hormone production during puberty reaches a maximum level, the probability of dying jumps up – a phenomenon, called the “accident hump.” The maximum of the accident hump occurs in the late phase of puberty, after males reach reproductive capability and their voice changes.
The accident hump occurs because young men participate in particularly risky behavior when the release of the hormone testosterone reaches its maximum.
In respect to the developmental stage of the body “being 18 today is like being 22 in 1800,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein believes the biological and social phases in the lives of young people are drifting apart.
“While adolescents become adults earlier in a biological sense, they reach adulthood later regarding their social and economic roles.
“Important decisions in life are being made with an increasing distance from the recklessness of youth.”
Still the question remains whether the “high-risk phase” of adolescence becomes more dangerous for males because it starts earlier.
While younger men are less mentally and socially mature, parents also tend to supervise their children more closely when they are younger.