Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Kimber Haddix McKay

Commitee Members

Blakely Brown, Gilbert Quintero


autonomy, consumption, endocrine disrupting chemicals, fetal origins theory, formal economy, industrial development, pediatric health, pediatric reproductive health, women


University of Montana


An Investigation of Etiologies: The Biosocial Exploration of Premature Sexual Development in Puerto Rico Objective: The purpose of this study was to argue for an anthropological approach in the investigation of the world’s highest recorded prevalence of precocious puberty and premature thelarche that occurred in Puerto Rico in the late 1970s. After 30 years of biomedical research, definite etiologies of this epidemic remain unknown; prompting for a more dynamic, biosocial approach in studying this pediatric health phenomenon. Methods: This research began with a literature review of mixed-methods data. Literature sources were segmented by qualitative and quantitative methods. Each source was read and had corresponding handwritten notes that were converted into an electronic format using Microsoft Word. Codes were created to classify the literature into three overarching categories that complemented the research aims: capitalism, women’s shifting social roles and precocious puberty and premature thelarche. These three main topics were further organized into sub-sections, which led to the identification of appropriate theoretical frameworks that shaped the thesis’ argument. Conclusions: The relationship between political and economic institutional developments and their effects on females in Puerto Rico are hypothesized to be the ultimate culprit of the precocious puberty and premature thelarche epidemic. The onset of the American Regime in 1898 introduced corporate capitalist culture to the insular population. Consequently, social changes such as the adoption of materialism, rapid industrial development and a substantial increase in female social autonomy occurred. Fetal origins theory’s key concept of maternal to fetal transmission is applied to this argument to hypothesize that the compounding effects of women’s liberation, their increased engagement in the formal economy, and the toxic byproducts of industrial waste practices caused an increased incidence of precocious puberty and premature thelarche in the pediatric population. Future Directions: Hypotheses derived from this literature review indicate the need for a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to understanding the ultimate etiologies of this epidemic. Anthropological methods, which are both holistic and multidisciplinary, should follow-up the social considerations of existing research through an analysis of the biosocial interface and local social context of this pediatric health issue (Colon et al. 2000). Future research methods should include surveys, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, medical records, focus groups, and bivariate and multivariate statistical analyses.



© Copyright 2012 Holly Lynn Horan