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Meaning For Reproduction And Family

Menarche is an abrupt signal that marks a change in social status from child to adult. Cross-culturally, menarche has a variety of meanings that include adult responsibilities, freedoms, and expectations regarding reproduction. As with all cultural phenomena, there is a wide range of significance attached to menarche.

In the United States, ideally, there is an extended period of time from menarche to marriage and reproduction. Many families want their daughters to get an education beyond high school before they start families. After marriage, fecundity (reproductive potential) can be controlled by birth control technology in those social groups whose belief system accepts the ethics of these devices. However, the consequences of premarital sex are a concern for the modern family because as the age of menarche lowers, the time span between puberty and marriage increases. Many parents are conflicted about what kind of birth control information should be provided to their daughters. Education plays an important part in delaying the time of marriage. Education is highly correlated with family size: the greater the number of years of education, the smaller the family size (Ehrenreich and English 1978). Until early in the twentieth century, it was common belief that school weakened a woman's reproductive ability by physically stressing her body so that she could not have many children. Social scientists now acknowledge that time of marriage and family size are choices made by women, some of whom prefer to obtain an education before starting a family.

In tribal societies, where fertility is crucial, menarche is celebrated by a rite of passage. Where fertility is at a premium, it is cause for elaborate ritual and public knowledge. In other societies, menarche marks the time when the girl can be married (eHRAF 2001). Among the Western Apache, the ritual that accompanied menarche benefited the entire community through the girl's connection to a deity. She was also given an earthly sponsor who facilitated expanding social networks (Bonvillain 1995).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsMenarche - The Biological Process, Differing Ages Of Onset Through History, Meaning For Reproduction And Family, How Menarche Is Treated In Different Societies