Gender Differences at Puberty

Gender Differences at Puberty

Gender Differences at Puberty

Gender Differences at Puberty


Focusing on the emergence of gender difference as a major life transition, this study provides a summary of interdisciplinary research that includes contributions from an international team of leading experts. Puberty is one of the most important life transitions. At no other time are there such significant and rapid transformations in biology and social and psychological development. Topics covered in this volume include biological aspects of puberty, body image, aggression, sexual abuse, opposite-sex relationships and the psychopathology of puberty.


Following a relatively long period of juvenile growth and reproductive immaturity, adolescence commences with a series of rapid endocrinological changes and ends at the completion of body growth. During adolescence, males and females … show a spurt in growth, secondary sexual characteristics such as sexual dimorphism and body shape … and both sexes attain reproductive maturity. Concomitant with these physical and physiological changes it is clear that there are profound changes in social behavior.

E. Pusey, Behavioral changes at adolescence in chimpanzees, Behaviour, 115(3–4), 204

This description reflects what we know about puberty in humans, although it was written by Anne Pusey to describe puberty in chimpanzees.

Puberty represents the most salient developmental milestone in early adolescence. Although it is commonly thought of as the emergence of secondary sexual characteristics, there are a multitude of other important biological, psychological, and social changes associated with puberty. In the biological sphere there are changes in sleep patterns, brain neurochemistry, and body habitus, in addition to hormonal changes, during puberty. In the psychological domain, there are dramatic shifts in identity, body image, and relationships with parents. Socially, the peer group becomes predominant, social awareness and social anxiety increase. There are important school transitions – elementary to middle school and middle school to high school – which youth have to navigate. It is at this time that experimentation with drugs escalates, sexual promiscuity begins, and risk-taking behavior becomes a way of life for a small subgroup of adolescents. Puberty is also of interest because males and females enter and complete pubertal development at different ages. There are interactions between gender-specific developmental changes and puberty. For example, the emergence of important gender differences in peer relationships, sexual activity, drug use, body image, depression, and anxiety occur at puberty. Why there is this divergence in life course between the . . .

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