Early adversity, elevated stress physiology, accelerated sexual maturation, and poor health in females

Dev Psychol. 2015 Jun;51(6):816-822. doi: 10.1037/dev0000017. Epub 2015 Apr 27.


Evolutionary-minded developmentalists studying predictive-adaptive-response processes linking childhood adversity with accelerated female reproductive development and health scientists investigating the developmental origins of health and disease (DOoHaD) may be tapping the same process, whereby longer-term health costs are traded off for increased probability of reproducing before dying via a process of accelerated reproductive maturation. Using data from 73 females, we test the following propositions using path analysis: (a) greater exposure to prenatal stress predicts greater maternal depression and negative parenting in infancy, (b) which predicts elevated basal cortisol at 4.5 years, (c) which predicts accelerated adrenarcheal development, (d) which predicts more physical and mental health problems at age 18. Results prove generally consistent with these propositions, including a direct link from cortisol to mental health problems. DOoHaD investigators should consider including early sexual maturation as a core component linking early adversity and stress physiology with poor health later in life in females.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenarche
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Life Change Events
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mental Health
  • Parenting
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Puberty, Precocious / etiology
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone