TUESDAY, Aug. 23, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say boys are becoming physically mature earlier than ever before -- noting that males have been reaching sexual maturity about 2.5 months earlier every decade since at least the mid-1700s.
"The reason for earlier maturity for boys, as with girls, is probably because nutrition and disease environments are getting more favorable for it," demographer Joshua Goldstein, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany explained in an institute news release.
The new study concluded that the span of time in which people are sexually mature (but not yet considered adults) is expanding. The authors noted that the cause of this early physical maturity is purely biological and has nothing to do with technological advancements or social activities.
In the study, the researchers examined mortality data from five countries. They explained that when male hormone production during puberty reaches its highest level, the likelihood of boys dying also increases, because the release of the hormone testosterone spurs them to take more risks. This phenomenon, called the "accident hump," also occurs among male apes.
The investigators concluded that sexual maturity for boys is occurring earlier than it used to, along with this so-called accident hump.
The study authors noted that the accident hump hits its maximum in the late phase of puberty, when boys' voices change and they reach reproductive capability. Although this high-risk "reckless" phase starts earlier, it may not be more dangerous nowadays since parents tend to supervise their children more closely at younger ages.
In addition, the researchers pointed out, the gap between sexual maturity and social maturity, or adulthood, is increasing.
"The biological and social phases in the lives of young people are drifting apart ever stronger," said Goldstein. "While adolescents become adults earlier in a biological sense, they reach adulthood later regarding their social and economic roles."
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on boys and puberty.