Individual differences in boys' and girls' timing and tempo of puberty: modeling development with nonlinear growth models

Dev Psychol. 2011 Sep;47(5):1389-1409. doi: 10.1037/a0023838.


Pubertal development is a nonlinear process progressing from prepubescent beginnings through biological, physical, and psychological changes to full sexual maturity. To tether theoretical concepts of puberty with sophisticated longitudinal, analytical models capable of articulating pubertal development more accurately, we used nonlinear mixed-effects models to describe both the timing and tempo of pubertal development in the sample of 364 White boys and 373 White girls measured across 6 years as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Individual differences in timing and tempo were extracted with models of logistic growth. Differential relations emerged for how boys' and girls' timing and tempo of development were related to physical characteristics (body mass index, height, and weight) and psychological outcomes (internalizing problems, externalizing problems, and risky sexual behavior). Timing and tempo are associated in boys but not girls. Pubertal timing and tempo are particularly important for predicting psychological outcomes in girls but only sparsely related to boys' psychological outcomes. Results highlight the importance of considering the nonlinear nature of puberty and expand the repertoire of possibilities for examining important aspects of how and when pubertal processes contribute to development.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Anthropometry
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Puberty / psychology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sexual Behavior