A life history theory of father absence and menarche: a meta-analysis

Evol Psychol. 2014 Apr 29;12(2):273-94. doi: 10.1177/147470491401200202.


Is the absence of biological fathers related to their daughters' earlier age at menarche? Drawing on evolutionary psychology and life history theory, prior research has suggested such a relationship (Belsky, Steinberg, and Draper, 1991; Draper and Harpending, 1982; Ellis, 2004). Although qualitative reviews have shown narrative support for this relationship (Allison and Hyde, 2013; Ellis, 2004; Kim, Smith, and Palermiti, 1997; Susman and Dorn, 2009), no quantitative review exists to provide empirical support for this relationship or to explain mixed results. Thus, we conducted a random-effects meta-analysis of correlations (Card, 2012) on father absence and daughter menarcheal age (k=33; N=70,403). The weighted mean correlation was .14, 95% CI [.09, .19], suggesting that father absence was significantly related to earlier menarche; effect sizes were heterogeneous. Egger's regression (Egger, Smith, Schneider, and Minder, 1997) showed no evidence of publication bias (file-drawer effect; r=.34, p=.052). Outcome measure differences (menarcheal age vs. menarcheal age embedded in a multi-item pubertal timing scale) did not moderate effect sizes. Study year effects (Schooler, 2011) were also non-significant. Our findings support one aspect of the life history model and provide groundwork for subsequent examination of other pathways in the model.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Fathers*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menarche / physiology*
  • Nuclear Family