Gender differences in pubertal timing, social competence, and cigarette use: a test of the early maturation hypothesis

J Adolesc Health. 2012 Aug;51(2):150-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.11.021. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Purpose: The timing of pubertal maturation has been associated with cigarette use, but the exact mechanisms by which maturation influences cigarette use are unclear. One hypothesis posited to explain this association is the early maturation hypothesis, that boys and girls who mature earlier than their peers have developed physically before their social resources have fully developed, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with challenges that may arise when entering physical maturity. This prospective study examines the relations between pubertal timing, social competence, and cigarette use in a sample of 1,013 boys and girls, followed from 5th through 12th grade.

Methods: Latent growth modeling was used to predict cigarette use across high school years (grades 9-12) from pubertal timing assessed in 5th grade (for girls) and 6th grade (for boys) as mediated by social competence across grades 6-8.

Results: Earlier pubertal maturation predicted cigarette use in 9th grade and increased cigarette use across high school. Earlier maturation also predicted lower social competence in 6th grade. For girls, social competence partially mediated the relation between pubertal timing and cigarette use.

Conclusions: The data supported the early maturation hypothesis for both boys and girls, as earlier maturers were more likely to smoke in 9th grade and had lower social competence in 6th grade. However, social competence partially mediated cigarette use for girls only. The mechanisms by which negative outcomes are associated with pubertal maturation appear to differ by gender.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age of Onset
  • Child
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Prospective Studies
  • Puberty
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*