I was reading recently that the age of menarche has decreased in the last 150 years, and was wondering if the age of menopause in humans has also changed recently?

Would there be selective pressure for it to increase currently, given that the average age of women having their first child is increasing in the West anyway?


Quick answer: Yes, but not in the last 150 years.

There seems to be no clear link between age at menarche and age at menopause (taken from [1]):

While earlier studies were able to establish an association between early age of menarche and later menopause (Frisch 1978; 1987), more modern studies have not been able to confirm this effect (Whelan et al., 1990; van Noord et al., 1997).

Aristotle's assessment was similar to those of Hippocrates and also Roman authors, so it seems that 2000 years ago most women entered the menopause in their early 40s. Mediaeval authors, however, gave the 50s as the age when menses ceased-much closer to the timing for twentieth century women.

Jean Ginsburg in [2] states (emphasis mine):

In the past 100 years data from schoolchildren have shown a steady fall in the age at menarche in industrialised communities. Has there been a corresponding change in the age at the menopause? Unfortunately, reported surveys of the menopause have suffered from methodological defects. [...]

Nevertheless, those studies least subject to bias show a striking agreement that the median age at the menopause is currently around 50 in Western industrialised societies. In Britain it is 50.78, in the United States 49.8 and in white South Africans 48.7 with little apparent change over the past century. In non-European women, however, the menopause seems to occur earlier-in South Africa and the United States black women have an earlier menopause than white women.

So, while early menarche is, apparently, irrelevant, age of onset of menopause has increased since antiquity but has remained relatively stable since the middle ages. Therefore, there have been no significant changes in the age of onset of menopause in the time frame you defined (150 years).

Finally, Bengtsson et al [3] state that:

Our study has, thus, not supported the view that the menopausal age is rapidly changing.

  1. C. Keck, Predictive Factors to Determine Age of Onset of Menopause, PAMJ , 3, 2005

  2. Ginsberg J. What determines the age at the menopause? BMJ. 1991 Jun 1;302:1288-9.

  3. Calle Bengtsson, Olof Lindquist, Lasse Redvall, Is the menopausal age rapidly changing?, Maturitas, 1(3), February 1979, Pages 159-164


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