Testosterone may cause increased probability of dying among teenagers

Testosterone. It makes 18 the old 22 – at least physically.

It’s the male hormone that, from conception to old age, controls the lives of men and boys; and, now there’s evidence that it may be causing an “accident hump” – associated with an increased probability of dying among teenage boys.

The age of sexual maturity has been on a decline – about 2.5months each decade or more than two years per century – at least since the mid-18th Century but, the research has focused primarily on girls and used data analysis documented by medical records.

Testosterone may cause risky behaviour in teenagers“The reason for earlier maturity for boys, as with girls, is probably because nutrition and disease environments are getting favorable for it,” reports demographer Joshua Goldstein, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock (Germany). Goldstein uncovered the male statistics by studying demographic data related to mortality. When male hormone production during puberty reaches a maximum level, the probability of dying increases – an “accident hump.” And the hump, which is statistically well-documented, is consistent in almost all societies.

Reviewing data for Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Great Britain and Italy since 1950, Goldstein discovered that the “accident hump” is getting earlier and earlier. It occurs in the late phase of puberty, after males reach reproductive capability and their voices change. It is attributed to the fact that young men participate in particularly risky behaviors when the release of testosterone reaches its maximum .  (However, it should be noted, that since 1950 the data is not clear but indicates stagnation.)

It is well-known that dangerous and reckless shows of strength, negligence, and a high propensity to violence lead to an increased number of fatal accidents. While the probability of a fatality remains low, the rate jumps considerably.

“Being 18 today is like being 22 in 1800,” reports Goldstein, who attributes the changes to better nutrition and an improved resilience against diseases. Moreover, it appears that the shift in age of maturity is biological and not related to technological advancements or social activities. “Researchers see for the first time how females and males have been equally responsive to changes in the environment,” notes Goldstein.

“The biological and social phases in the lives of young people are drifting apart ever stronger. While adolescents become adults earlier in a biological sense, they reach adulthood later regarding their social and economic roles.”

Sociological and life-cycle research show that for more than half a century the age at which people marry, have children, start their careers and become financially independent from their parents continue to rise.

Goldstein points out that this doesn’t only extend the period of physical adulthood during which young people do not yet have children. “Important decisions in life are being made with an increasing distance from the recklessness of youth.”  He points out that it remains unclear whether the “high-risk phase” of adolescence becomes more dangerous because it starts earlier. Although young men are less mentally and socially mature, their parents tend to supervise their children more closely when they are younger.

Goldstein points out that this doesn’t only extend the period of physical adulthood during which young people do not yet have children. “Important decisions in life are being made with an increasing distance from the recklessness of youth.”  He points out that it remains unclear whether the “high-risk phase” of adolescence becomes more dangerous because it starts earlier. Although young men are less mentally and socially mature, their parents tend to supervise their children more closely when they are younger.

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testosterone

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