Puberty Is Tougher for Low-Income Girls

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Puberty Is Tougher for Low-Income Girls

We all have horror stories from our puberty phase: voice cracks, bad breakouts, hormone fluctuations; the list goes on. But on top of the awkwardness of growing up, many girls from low-income families in the United States feel unprepared for puberty, leading to negative experiences during their development.

According to research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health from the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the majority of low-income girls felt a lack of understanding and preparedness for menstruation, reproductive health and body changes.

For the study, the researchers reviewed data from peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2014 to assess experiences of low-income girls concentrated in the northeastern United States.

While many girls reported having learned some information about puberty through one source—such as a mother, sister or teacher—most felt what they were told was inaccurate, lacking or provided too late. In the research, many mothers of the girls said they felt unable to meet their daughters’ needs. Mothers described feeling uncomfortable with the topic, uncertain about when to introduce the conversation, and unaware of how menstruation works.

Over the last 25 years, the age of puberty development has declined in the United States, with 48 percent of African-American girls showing signs of development by age eight. Researchers noted that this trend could lead to increasing numbers of girls without appropriately timed puberty education.

An earlier study indicated that girls from higher-income families had more knowledge about puberty, and felt very prepared for menstruation. These finding highlight the socioeconomic differences related to puberty preparedness.

Marni Sommer, an associate professor at the Mailman School of Public Health said the study “makes it clear that there is a need for new more robust interventions to support and provide information about puberty for low-income girls, something we are considering for the coming years.”

Photo: Pezibear, CC-BY

Jane Snyder is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer and photojournalist based out of Athens, Georgia.