Voice change as a new measure of male pubertal timing: a study among Bolivian adolescents

Ann Hum Biol. 2013 May;40(3):209-19. doi: 10.3109/03014460.2012.759622. Epub 2013 Feb 7.


Background: Age at menarche is often used to measure maturational tempo in girls. Unfortunately, no parallel marker exists for boys. It is suggested that voice change has a number of advantages as a marker of the timing and degree of male pubertal development.

Aim: Traditional auxological methods are applied to voice change in order to compare differential development both between (males vs females; Tsimane vs North American; better vs worse condition) and within (voice vs height; fundamental frequency vs formant structure) populations.

Subjects and methods: Fundamental and formant frequencies, as well as height and weight, were measured for 172 Tsimane males and females, aged 8-23. Participants were assigned to 'better' or 'worse' condition based on a median split of height-for-age and weight-for-age z-scores.

Results: Results support dramatic vocal changes in males. Peak voice change among Tsimane male adolescents occurs∼1 year later than in an age-matched North American sample. Achieved adult male voices are also higher in the Tsimane. Tsimane males in worse condition experience voice change more than 1 year later than Tsimane males in better condition.

Conclusion: Voice change has a number of attractive features as a marker of male pubertal timing including its methodological and technical simplicity as well as its social salience to group members.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Bolivia
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indians, South American
  • Male
  • Puberty*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • United States
  • Voice*
  • Young Adult