Do Girls Really Mature Earlier than Boys?

On average, the brains of girls develop earlier than boys. This makes them slightly more mature than their peers during childhood and early adolescence. Why is this?
Do Girls Really Mature Earlier than Boys?

Last update: 08 May, 2021

Do girls actually mature earlier than boys? This is a highly controversial subject because it sounds discriminatory. However, many families and educators do perceive a more precocious ability to regulate behavior in girls. This is because they display greater emotional temperance and have a sounder capacity for reflection.

Don’t jump to conclusions just yet though, as this isn’t about intellectual potential. People perceive children’s maturity in the way they process information and in their ability to repress impulses. The latter seems to develop earlier in the female gender due to a particular fact, according to science. It’s due to the brain restructuring that occurs during childhood.

“Tears are the biggest weapon used by every girl against the boys with a success rate of hundred percent.”

-Aman Jassal-

A brain on fire.

Keys to understanding why girls mature earlier than boys

Saying there are subtle differences in the neurological universe between men and women isn’t discrimination but scientific evidence. It’s a fact that both genders follow the same neuromaturation processes that allow them to achieve an agile, efficient brain, ready to interact with the environment.

However, the female brain begins this neurological development earlier. This is the key to the mystery of why girls mature earlier than boys. Thus, one of the most interesting and revealing research works on this subject is the one conducted at Newcastle University in 2013.

The change occurs between the ages of 10 and 19

The aim of the Newcastle University research was to find out the level of connectivity of the human brain between the ages of four and 40. Markus Kaiser and his team, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), performed MRI scans on a large population sample in this age range to find out.

The most significant finding was that girls begin to show greater brain organization between the ages of ten and 19. They also observed a higher neurological activity. However, this maturational process begins in boys between the ages of 15 and 21.

The reason why girls mature earlier than boys lies in “neuronal pruning”

The infant/adolescent brain needs an almost magical phenomenon to develop: neurological pruning. This process of optimizing brain connectivity consists of eliminating the connections (synapses) seldom used, leaving instead those they do use frequently.

Myelination nourishes the latter to strengthen and optimize their performance.

This process starts earlier in girls, having its first onset between the ages of ten and 12, and continuing until the age of 19 or even beyond. In boys, neurological pruning begins around the age of 15.

Preferential detachment is the mechanism of selective elimination of cerebral connections that occurs earlier in the female brain. Something like this is what makes girls show greater maturity in emotional aspects and also in impulse control. Of course, there are exceptions.

Girls mature earlier than boys but have the same needs

Some warn against the risk of misinterpreting the fact that girls mature earlier than boys. This is because some use this idea to exert pressure on girls. For example, some families place more responsibilities on them than on their brothers.

Comments such as, “Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re just more responsible than your brother” aren’t pedagogical. That small advantage that, on average, may be given to them isn’t an achievement, nor an excuse to give them more responsibilities.

All children, regardless of gender, deserve equal treatment. Moreover, one must treat each child and teenager on the basis of their individual personal needs.

One thing experts in child brain development point out is the need to give personalized attention to boys and girls alike from an early age to optimize plasticity and healthy neuronal pruning.

A child looking at a phone.

The maturational advantage of girls could be lost, and that of boys delayed even further

Indeed, girls mature earlier than boys and nothing is as important for a child’s brain as the healthy neuronal pruning that occurs between the ages of 10 and 21.

However, neuroscientists warn that early exposure to screens and the hyperactivation this entails for their brains, lack of exercise, lack of social connection, and poor nutrition affect proper brain development.

This is because children of the 21st century, often subjected to new technologies and sedentary lifestyles, may begin to show a delay in this maturation and in this necessary neurological pruning.

Attending to the brain plasticity of children, encouraging their curiosity, interaction with their peers, and physical outdoor activity are essential strategies for investing in well-being, health, and happiness.

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  • Sol Lim, Cheol E. Han, Peter J. Uhlhaas(2013) Preferential Detachment During Human Brain Development: Age- and Sex-Specific Structural Connectivity in Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) Data. Cerebral Cortex, Volume 25, Issue 6, June 2015, Pages 1477–1489, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bht333