The effects of age at menarche and first sexual intercourse on reproductive and behavioural outcomes: A Mendelian randomization study

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Abstract

There is substantial variation in the timing of significant reproductive life events such as menarche and first sexual intercourse. Life history theory explains this variation as an adaptive response to an individual's environment and it is important to examine how traits within life history strategies affect each other. Here we applied Mendelian randomization (MR) methods to investigate whether there is a causal effect of variation in age at menarche and age at first sexual intercourse (markers or results of exposure to early life adversity) on outcomes related to reproduction, education and risky behaviour in UK Biobank (N = 114 883-181 255). Our results suggest that earlier age at menarche affects some traits that characterize life history strategies including earlier age at first and last birth, decreased educational attainment, and decreased age at leaving education (for example, we found evidence for a 0.26 year decrease in age at first birth per year decrease in age at menarche, 95% confidence interval: -0.34 to -0.17; p < 0.001). We find no clear evidence of effects of age at menarche on other outcomes, such as risk taking behaviour. Age at first sexual intercourse was also related to many life history outcomes, although there was evidence of horizontal pleiotropy which violates an assumption of MR and we therefore cannot infer causality from this analysis. Taken together, these results highlight how MR can be applied to test predictions of life history theory and to better understand determinants of health and social behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0234488
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume15
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2020

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