Do boys or girls grow faster?

When it comes to growth and development, there are some clear differences between boys and girls. On average, girls tend to grow faster than boys in the early years, but boys experience puberty and growth spurts later on that help them catch up and sometimes surpass girls in height. However, the timing and rate of growth can vary quite a bit across individuals due to genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.

Key Differences in Growth Patterns

Here are some of the key differences between boys’ and girls’ growth patterns:

  • Girls typically enter puberty between ages 8 and 13, while for boys it is between ages 9 and 14.
  • On average, girls hit their peak growth spurt and pubertal growth spurt about two years earlier than boys.
  • Girls usually stop growing taller by age 16, while boys may continue growing into their late teens.
  • The peak growth velocity (fastest growth rate) for girls is around age 12, versus age 14 for boys.
  • Estrogen drives growth in girls, while testosterone is the dominant growth hormone for boys.

These differences in timing arise largely from contrasting hormonal changes. The earlier increase in estrogen levels in girls triggers their growth spurt and pubertal development at an earlier age compared to boys. For boys, a later testosterone surge fuels their adolescent growth spurt.

Early Childhood

In early childhood, from infancy through about age 8, girls and boys follow a similar growth pattern. They grow rapidly in infancy, and their growth rate slows during the toddler and preschool years.

However, girls do tend to grow a bit faster than boys during these early childhood years. A study of over 1 million measurements from birth to 5 years old found that at age 5, the average height of girls was about 1.5 cm taller than boys.

So why do girls initially grow faster? Part of the reason is that girls’ skeletons mature a bit earlier. Their bones start fusing earlier, which allows more rapid gains in height.

Prepubescent Years

Between ages 8 to 12, right before puberty, girls continue to grow at a slightly faster rate than boys. During the prepubescent years, the average growth rate is about 5-6 cm per year for girls versus 4-5 cm per year for boys.

Some research indicates this prepubescent difference in growth rates is largely driven by the earlier rise in estrogen levels in girls. Estrogen works to accelerate bone growth and development, while testosterone has less influence on boys’ growth before puberty.

Puberty and Growth Spurts

Once puberty hits, growth patterns diverge substantially between girls and boys.

Girls experience their peak growth spurt between the ages of 10 and 14. The peak growth velocity for girls coincides with the first visible body changes of puberty, as estrogen levels are high.

In contrast, most boys hit their peak growth spurt later, between the ages of 12 and 16. This coincides with increased testosterone production during male puberty.

During the peak growth spurt, the average growth rate reaches about 8-10 cm per year in girls and 10-12 cm per year in boys. The surge in hormones during puberty fuels rapid growth of muscle, bone, and other tissues.

Boys also tend to gain more height during puberty than girls. Typically, boys grow around 28 cm taller during their adolescent growth spurt, while girls grow about 25 cm.

Not only do boys grow taller during puberty, they also end up with higher peak growth velocities than girls, even though girls start their growth spurt first. This allows young men to ultimately catch up and surpass young women in average height.

What Factors Influence Growth Rates?

While girls initially lead in growth, hormones work to even things out during adolescence. But many different factors influence just when puberty begins and how growth unfolds.

Genetic Potential

Genes provide the blueprint that determines a child’s growth potential and adult stature. Short parents tend to have shorter children, while tall parents typically have taller kids.

Genetics aren’t destiny, however. Environmental conditions and hormonal balance also affect how genes for growth are expressed.


Adequate nutrition is essential to support growth. Protein to build muscle, calcium and vitamin D for bone development, and calories to fuel the process are key.

Poor nutrition can lead to delayed growth and short stature if calorie, protein, vitamin, and mineral needs aren’t met.

Health Conditions

Ongoing illnesses, growth hormone disorders, hormonal imbalances, and other medical conditions can impact growth patterns and delay puberty.

For example, precocious puberty is linked to accelerated growth and earlier cessation of growth in both girls and boys.

Environmental Factors

Things like pollution, stress levels, and chemical exposures may impact growth and maturation directly or through hormonal disruption.

However, more research is needed into these environmental links.

Socioeconomic Status

Some studies have found associations between family income, education levels, and children’s growth rates and attained height.

Children in poverty are more likely to experience growth delays, potentially due to inadequate nutrition and health care access.

Average Differences in Growth

While individuals vary, looking at average patterns can illuminate some overall differences in growth between girls and boys:

Age Girls Boys
Newborn 50 cm 51 cm
1 year 74 cm 75 cm
5 years 110 cm 108 cm
10 years 143 cm 142 cm
15 years 163 cm 176 cm

These standard growth charts illustrate some overall patterns:

  • At birth, boys are slightly longer on average.
  • By age 5, girls inch ahead in average height.
  • Boys surpass girls during adolescence due to their later growth spurt.
  • By age 15, the average boy is significantly taller than the average girl.

However, keep in mind there is substantial individual variability within the sexes despite these broad trends.

Ideal Growth Patterns

Rather than comparing boys versus girls, the ideal approach is to evaluate each child’s growth pattern individually on standard growth charts.

Children who maintain consistent growth tracking along a particular percentile curve are likely developing well. Accelerating or slowing growth trajectories signal issues that may warrant a closer look.

For both sexes, staying on track with size and developmental milestones, without showing excessive delays or getting too far ahead or behind, is most optimal physically and psychologically.

Signs of Healthy Growth

Here are some signs that a child is growing well:

  • Consistent height and weight gains year after year.
  • Proportional development of height, weight, and body mass.
  • Normal timing of sexual maturation based on gender.
  • Achieving expected developmental milestones for bone, muscle, and motor skills.
  • Having energy levels appropriate for age and physical activity.

For teens, some slowing of growth after puberty is normal as they near their adult stature.

When to Investigate

On the other hand, the following growth patterns may warrant medical evaluation:

  • Failure to gain height and weight appropriately over time.
  • Significant short stature or excessive height.
  • Lack of developmental progress.
  • Puberty that occurs unusually early or late.
  • Fatigue, weakness, or other worrisome symptoms.

If growth patterns veer too far from the norm, an underlying health issue could be impacting development. Pediatricians can help assess what is normal genetically versus potential problems needing intervention.

Supporting Healthy Growth

To help boys and girls achieve their growth potential, parents can focus on:

  • Providing nutritious food and avoiding excess junk food.
  • Ensuring regular medical care and screening tests.
  • Limiting stress and fostering healthy sleep habits.
  • Encouraging regular physical activity.
  • Avoiding smoking, drugs, alcohol use.
  • Prioritizing age-appropriate social connection.

Children should also feel supported exactly as they are, without undue focus on height expectations. With basic needs met, most will grow well.

When to Seek Help

Consult a pediatrician if growth patterns raise concerns or if puberty is excessively delayed. Ongoing medical guidance can assess growth milestones and identify potential issues requiring treatment.

For significant growth abnormalities, the doctor may check hormone levels or do imaging to rule out underlying conditions. If a definable disorder is found, treatment aims to get hormones and growth factors back on track.

In some cases, hormone therapy is used to spur growth. But results are variable and treatment is not universally recommended.

The Bottom Line

While girls initially outpaced boys in early growth, the tables turn during adolescence. Thanks to the impact of testosterone during puberty, boys typically end up taller through their teen years.

However, there is substantial variability between individuals. The focus should be on evaluating each child’s growth pattern over time based on their unique genetic makeup and circumstances.

With a balanced diet, nurturing care, and appropriate medical oversight, most children will chart a healthy growth trajectory and hit developmental milestones on time. Consistent gaining of height and weight, without excessive delays or acceleration, supports optimal wellbeing.

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