To determine the role of type, timing, and cumulative childhood hardships on age at menarche in a prospective cohort study.
Longitudinal analysis of 4,524 female participants of the National Child Development Study cohort (1958 – 2003). Six types of childhood hardships were identified with a factor analysis methodology: financial, family dysfunction, caregiver low interest in education, lack of supportive caregiving, neglectful environment, and family structure disruption. Paternal absence/low involvement in childhood was an a priori hardship. Retrospective reports of abuse in childhood were explored in relation to age at menarche, also. Generalized logit regression analyses explored the impact of type, timing, and cumulative hardships on age at menarche (≤11, 12–13, ≥14 years).
Cumulative childhood hardships were associated with a graded increase in risk for later menarche with adjusted OR [AOR] of 1.37 (95%CI: 1.10, 1.70), 1.50 (95%CI: 1.18, 1.91), and 1.58 (95%CI: 1.29, 1.92) among those with 2, 3, and ≥4 adversities, respectively. More than 2 hardships in early life had the strongest association with late menarche (AOR=2.32, 95%CI: 1.12, 4.80). Sexual abuse was most strongly associated with early menarche (AOR=2.60, 95%CI: 1.40, 4.81).
Cumulative childhood hardships increased risk for later age at menarche. Child abuse was associated with both early and late menarche, although associations varied by type of abuse. Critical period of exposure, type, and chronicity of hardships demonstrate varying degrees of influence on age at menarche.