Does gender identity impact development? Children saying they want to switch genders enter puberty faster

AARHUS, Denmark — Could gender identity questions actually send children into puberty sooner? A new study finds 11-year-olds who expressed a desire to switch genders were more likely to enter puberty earlier than their peers.

A team from Aarhus University say their study is one of the first to explore the link between children’s gender identity dilemmas and actual child development. Researchers used data from the “Better Health for Generations” (BSIG) research project, which monitored 100,000 Danish women starting in 1996. The study followed their pregnancies, births, and the growth and development of their children for over a decade.

At age 11, study authors asked each child about their possible desire to be the opposite gender. Around five percent of the adolescents reported either a partial or complete desire to switch genders. Using data on their puberty milestones at six-month intervals, the team combined these findings to reveal that these children tended to enter puberty sooner than their peers who did not want to be the opposite gender.

“The results indicate that children who at age 11 reported a desire to be the opposite gender tended to go into puberty before children who had not expressed a desire to change their gender. In the study, both birth-assigned boys and girls with a previous expressed desire to change gender entered puberty around two months earlier than their peers,” says master’s program student Anne Hjorth Thomsen in a media release.

There’s a key takeaway for pediatricians

Hjorth Thomsen says researchers need to perform more studies before anyone can draw any conclusions from this one report. However, the findings are important for pediatricians who are monitoring a child’s puberty development.

“Health professionals may encounter a desire to slow down puberty, because the child may not feel comfortable in their own body, or able to identify with it. It is therefore important that the healthcare professionals possess basic knowledge about the puberty development of the children, so that treatment can be applied at the right time,” the study author adds.

“In this study, we see earlier puberty development among children who wish to be the opposite gender, compared to children who do not wish to be the opposite gender. But we do not know whether the children’s own gender perception affects their puberty development, or whether there may be other explanations. We do not know the underlying causes,” Hjorth Thomsen concludes.

The findings are published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

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