See menarche booklets that companies published.
See some Kotex items: First ad (1921) - ad 1928 (Sears and Roebuck catalog) - Lee Miller ads (first real person in amenstrual hygiene ad, 1928) - Marjorie May's Twelfth Birthday (booklet for girls, 1928, Australian edition; there are many links here to Kotex items) - Preparing for Womanhood (1920s, booklet for girls; Australian edition) - 1920s booklet in Spanish showing disposal method - box from about 1969 - "Are you in the know?" ads (Kotex) (1949)(1953)(1964)(booklet, 1956) - See more ads on the Ads for Teenagers main page
DIRECTORY of all topics (See also the SEARCH ENGINE, bottom of page.)
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
Some MUM site links:
homepage | LIST OF ALL TOPICS | MUM address & What does MUM mean? | e-mail the museum | privacy on this site | who runs this museum?? |
Amazing women! | the art of menstruation | artists (non-menstrual) | asbestos | belts | bidets | founder bio | Bly, Nellie | MUM board | books: menstruation and menopause (and reviews) | cats | company booklets for girls (mostly) directory | contraception and religion | costumes | menstrual cups | cup usage | dispensers | douches, pain, sprays | essay directory | extraction | facts-of-life booklets for girls | famous women in menstrual hygiene ads | FAQ | founder/director biography | gynecological topics by Dr. Soucasaux | humor | huts | links | masturbation | media coverage of MUM | menarche booklets for girls and parents | miscellaneous | museum future | Norwegian menstruation exhibit | odor | olor | pad directory | patent medicine | poetry directory | products, current | puberty booklets for girls and parents | religion | Religión y menstruación | your remedies for menstrual discomfort | menstrual products safety | science | Seguridad de productos para la menstruación | shame | slapping, menstrual | sponges | synchrony | tampon directory | early tampons | teen ads directory | tour of the former museum (video) | underpants & panties directory | videos, films directory | Words and expressions about menstruation | Would you stop menstruating if you could? | What did women do about menstruation in the past? | washable pads
Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.

Average age at menarche in various cultures

In Europe and America, and probably in other cultures, the average age at which a girl first menstruates has gradually declined in recent historical times, the possible reasons being better nutrition and health (but see below). The age seems to have leveled off in America at the end of the 20th century, although the first appearance of other signs of sexual maturity, such as breasts and pubic hair, is still declining, possibly as a result of obesity and estrogen in the environment - for example, from discarded birth control pills.

Please send me good sources for estimates; I want to put well-documented ones for different cultures on this page. I'm putting the contributions I've received or found most recently, at top.

See menarche booklets that companies published.

May 25, 2006: The online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reports that German girls and boys continue the trend of earlier first menstruation and first ejaculation.

Emeritus Professor Norbert Kluge of the Universität Koblenz-Landau wrote in the Internet publication "Beiträge zur Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpädagogik" that girls in 1992 had their first period on average at 12.2 years old and in 2010 will have it around 10 or 11 years of age.

Researchers noted the trend 140 years ago. In 1860 the average menarche happened at 16.6 years, in 1920 at 14.6, in 1950 at 13.1 and 1980, 12.5 years.

Kluge (by the way, klug means smart in German) attributed the early maturation mostly to obesity caused by fast food. Lack of fat can also stop menstruation, which is what happens with anorexia.

Read the story (in German).


Howard Kelly, first professor of gynecology at Johns Hopkins, wrote the following in the 1928 edition (the last) of his text Gynecology. (Read more about him and the early Johns Hopkins medical school here - there's a laugh or two - with great drawings by the founder of the first medical school department of medical illustration in the world, at Johns Hopkins, Max Brödel.)

The analysis of over ten thousand histories in the United States and Canada by Engelmann showed that the average age at which menstruation begins (menarche) is 13.9 years. [Footnote:] The question of early maturity is not so much one of [geographic] latitudes of the immediate environment of clothing and house heating. V. Stefansson, eminent explorer, has noted that maturity takes place among the Eskimos about as early as in the south of Europe, owing to the intense heat of their igloos where the women are housed through the winter (temperature 80 or 90 degrees) and the double layer of fur clothing worn. They would seem for a large part of the year to live in a Turkish bath. "It is not rare among Eskimo women that they have their first child at at the age of twelve, and children born before the mothers were eleven have been recorded." These data are "strictly in accord with the supposition that the hotter the environment, the earlier the maturity."


 

A Canadian student generously sent her presentation about menarcheal age.
Read her comments and presentation, with sources, under the third chart.



 

The student writes about menarche and the charts above,

I studied the onset of puberty in general, and focused in part on menarche. In short, I found that the secular trend (here, secular means existing or continuing through ages or centuries - in other words, how the ages at first menstruation has changed through the centuries) was not, in fact, a modern drop in age of onset, but rather due to a 19th century rise in onset, probably due to nutritional factors. The trend was publicized by Tanner and colleagues. Many of the charts I've included come from his research. Part of the problem with Tanner's data is that he based the early estimates (i.e. the age of onset in the 1860s) on small studies done on children in less-than-ideal conditions - orphans, rural laborers, and the like. If you look at the chart giving ages in various parts of the world, you'll see that in New Guinea, the average age is much higher than elsewhere, probably due to poor nutrition. You'll also see that everywhere else, the average age is about the same, and that the populations the data is based on are "well-off" or "middle class," etc.

Bibliography for the presentation, below, and charts, above:

Bullough, Vern. "Menarche and Teenage Pregnancy: A Misuse of Historical Data." In Menarche, Sharon Golub, ed. Lexington: DC Heath and Company, 1983. pp. 187-193.

Cray, Don, et al. "Teens Before Their Time." Time. Oct. 30, 2000. p.66+

Ellis, Bruce J. and Judy Garber. "Psychosocial Antecedents of Variation in Girls' Pubertal Timing: Maternal Depression, Stepfather Presence, and Marital and Family Stress." Child Development. March-April 2000, p. 485(17).

Herman-Giddens, Marica, et al. "Secondary sexual characteristics and menses in young girls seen in office practice." Pediatrics. April 1997, p. 505(8).

Tanner, J.M. Foetus Into Man: Physical Growth from Conception to Maturity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Tanner, J.M. Growth at adolescence, with a general consideration of the effects of hereditary and environmental factors upon growth and maturation from birth to maturity. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1962.

Read the student's interesting presentation: Trends in Age at Onset of Puberty

For several years, researchers have been noticing a possible decline in the age of girls at the onset of puberty. Is this really happening, and if so, why, and what does it mean?

What causes the onset of puberty?

Androgens released during adrenarche may cause the secretion of pubertal hormones (i.e. estrogen).

The rise in estrogen causes thelarche (a.k.a. breast development) - the visible indicator or estrogen secretion.

Other possible indicators of estrogen secretion include:

Body fat distribution

Bone maturation

Vaginal cell cornification

Cervical mucous secretion

Proliferative endometrium present on biopsy

Plasma estradiol measurement

Other correlates with he start of puberty:

Skeletal age

Body water content

Critical lean body weight

Fat cells produce leptin

Age at onset of puberty and rate of puberty are primarily controlled by genetics.

Precocious puberty: can be pathological in nature (caused by tumors in central nervous system, encephalitis, or head trauma) or idiosyncratic.

Precocious puberty has been recorded since classical times. Girls who go through precocious puberty usually reach menopause at a normal age. In North America, girls are considered precocious if development begins before age 8, though this data may have to be re-evaluated.

The Secular Trend

Tanner first described the secular trend in 1962. ["Secular" means occurring through the centuries.]

According to Tanner, the average age of menarche dropped from about 17 to 12.8 during the period 1830-1962. The rate of decline was 4 months per decade.

Tanner has also noticed a decline in the age of initiation of the growth spurt. The trend seems to have stopped, with the age of menarche leveling off at 12.6.

Causes of the trend:

The most widely held belief is that the trend has occurred due to improved nutrition. Children today are bigger and heavier than in the past. Improved nutrition allows for normal growth. Lower classes and rural children have also seen a drop in the age of onset of puberty.

Other causes may include:

Generally improved environmental circumstances

Smaller families

Genetic isolates - a.k.a. natural selection

Gradual change in world temperature

Drop in incidence of disease

Obesity (onset of menarche has a correlation with the body fat percentage)

Sedentary lifestyle

Marcia Herman-Giddens and colleagues reported in 1997 that secondary sex characteristics are appearing earlier than is currently documented. The study was cross-sectional, using 255 doctors in 65 different practices. Their findings include: Age at menarche has not dropped in the last 45 years, but age at the onset of secondary sex characteristics has.

African-American girls develop earlier than white girls by 1-1.5 years. The mean age at onset of breast development is 8.87 years for African-American girls and 10.51 years for white girls. The mean age at onset of axillary (armpit) hair growth is 10.8 for A.A. girls and 11.8 for white girls. African-American girls are taller and heavier than white girls of the same age.

Possible causes include:

Better nutrition

Chemicals such as DDE, PCBs, Bisphenol A, and phthalates, which mimic sex hormones.

Hormones in meat and dairy products

Fat cells (obesity)

MTV [N.B. someone suggested that watching sexualized images on the media caused children to develop earlier. It's pretty far-fetched]

Stress at home - broken homes, abuse

Observation bias

Problems with the Documentation of the Secular Trend

Tanner's data is suspect because he used a small study group in establishing the original age of 17, and then used them to compare with groups elsewhere.

Tanner's establishment of the age range for normal development was based on a group of 192 lower-class girls in a children's home, who may have had low-quality care prior to the study.

History shows us another trend:

Historical Data on Age at Menarche

Early data

Ancient Rome 12-14

Medieval Europe 12-14

Medieval Middle East 12-13

Nineteenth Century

Manchester 1840s

working class women 15.7

upper class women 14.6

London 1855 (hospital patients) 15.5

Germany 1869 15.7

Scotland 1870 15.6-16.6

London 1880 (middle class) 15

U.S.A. late 19th century 12-14

Early 20th Century

USA 1905 14-15.7

So, we can see that there does appear to be a trend, but it is not as great as Tanner suggested. Research shows that menarche has dropped from 14-15 years to 12-13 [N.B. this chart was one I made myself, copying the data from one of the books I used. I'll need to get a proper citation for the data].

If we look at another chart (Table 3), we can see that in modern populations, people who are poorly nourished (New Guinea) start menstruating later. The first chart shows a similar trend, with working class women developing later than their upper-class counterparts.

It appears that the case is not that girls are currently developing unusually early, but that 19th-century girls were unusually late, though within normal parameters.

Herman-Giddens' data is also flawed:

Tanner stages of development are established by eye (breast tissue and fat tissue are easily confused by eye, though they can be distinguished by touch).

Too many different doctors participated in the study

Only 9.6% of the subjects were African-American

Non-random selection - the participants were all clients in suburban clinics

The subjects were all between the ages of 3 and 12. No older girls were included.

There is very little prior data concerning the onset of secondary sex characteristics.

No data on other racial groups were included in the study.

Conclusion - what does the secular trend mean?

In every primate population where an artificial food source has been introduced, the results have been:

Increase in body weight

Fall in age at menarche

Fall in the interbirth interval

Decline in infant mortality

In the majority of primates and domestic animals, sexual maturity is achieved before epiphyseal closure (bones) and completion of adult dentition.

There appears to be a relative delay in dental emergence in mammals that can be related to increasing body size and domestication.

Since these same patterns are being seen in humans, we can say that humans have been domesticated.

[End of the student's paper.]


Chart: "Decline in the age of appearance of the menarche during recent decades, from r
oughly 17 years in 1830 to less than 13 years a century and a half later."


 

"Decline in the age of appearance of the menarche during recent decades, from roughly 17 years in 1830 to less than 13 years a century and a half later."  The chart comes from Holland, but probably generally applies to America and western Europe. That line looks too straight to be true.
Chart adapted from Gynecology: A Clinical Atlas, by J.L.H Evers and M.J. Heineman, St. Louis (U.S.A.), 1990, p. 80.

In December 2001 a woman e-mailed this information:

With regards to the average age at menarche, I found this (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_1310000/1310280.stm ) story at the BBC news site, which was based on an article published in the British Medical Journal (see article here: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/322/7294/1095? and tables/data here: http://bmj.com/cgi/content/full/322/7294/1095/DC1 ).

The basic conclusions are that the age at menarche in British girls has fallen very slightly (by less than six months) over the last 20-30 years. It does make the point though that almost 1/8th of girls are still at primary school when they get their first period, and that more should be done to provide for them (in terms of education and dispensers in the toilets, etc.).

See menarche & puberty booklets that companies published.


 

©2001, 2003 Harry Finley. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute work on this Web site in any manner or medium without written permission of the author. Please report suspected violations to hfinley@mum.org