Hormones have many roles in human ontogeny, including the timing of life history ‘switch points’ across development. Limited hormonal data exist from non‐Western children, leaving a significant gap in our understanding of the diversity of life history patterning. This cross‐sectional study examines dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) production in relation to age, sex, ethnicity, and cortisol concentrations, as well as average age of adrenarche, among Aka and Ngandu children of the Central African Republic and Sidama children of Ethiopia.
Hair was collected from 480 children (160 per population) aged 3‐18 years old. These samples were analyzed for DHEAS and cortisol concentrations using ELISAs. A generalized additive model was used to examine DHEAS patterning in relation to age, sex, cortisol, and ethnicity. The derivative of DHEAS as a function of age was used to identify average age of adrenarche in each population.
DHEAS patterning in these three populations is distinct from Euro‐American patterns of production. In all three groups, the population‐level age at adrenarche onset occurs slightly later than Euro‐American averages, with both Central African populations experiencing a later onset than the Ethiopian population.
DHEAS patterns and age at adrenarche vary across cultures, perhaps indicating adaptive life history responses in diverse eco‐cultural environments. Delayed involution of the fetal zone and DHEAS patterning may offer both cognitive protection and immune defense in high‐risk, nutritionally‐poor environments. Additional research in the majority world is essential to improving our understanding of the diversity of hormonal development and timing of ‘switch points’ in life history trajectories.