Cross-cultural evidence does not support universal acceleration of puberty in father-absent households
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Description: This preprint has now been published as: Sear, R., Sheppard, P., & Coall, D.A. (2019) Cross-cultural evidence does not support universal acceleration of puberty in father absent households. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series B 374: 20180124. Father absence in early life is consistently shown to be associated with accelerated reproductive development in girls. Evolutionary social scientists have proposed several adaptive hypotheses for this finding. Though there is variation in the detail of these hypotheses, they all assume that family environment in early life influences the development of life history strategy, and, broadly, that early reproductive development is an adaptive response to father absence. Empirical evidence to support these hypotheses, however, is derived from WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) populations. Data from a much broader range of human societies is necessary in order to properly test adaptive hypotheses. Here we review the empirical literature on father absence and puberty in both sexes, focusing on recent studies which have tested this association beyond the WEIRD world. We find that relationships between father absence and age at puberty are more varied in contexts beyond WEIRD societies, and when relationships beyond the father-daughter dyad, are considered. This has implications for our understanding of how early life environment is linked to life history strategies, and for our understanding of pathways to adult health outcomes, given that early reproductive development may be linked to negative health outcomes in later life.