What age is a female brain fully developed?

The human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This applies to both males and females. However, there are some differences in brain development between the sexes. Let’s take a look at the key facts about when the female brain reaches full maturity.

Key Facts

  • The brain continues to develop into the mid-20s for both males and females.
  • The prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and control of impulses, develops last.
  • For females, the prefrontal cortex can take longer to develop fully, not completing until the mid-20s.
  • Hormones like estrogen and progesterone drive brain maturation in females.
  • The corpus callosum, which connects the brain hemispheres, may finish developing 1-2 years earlier in females.
  • Greater connectivity between hemispheres may aid female language and social skills.

Timeline of Brain Development

Now let’s take a closer look at how the female brain develops and matures over time:

In the Womb

Brain development begins just a few weeks after conception in the womb. By the second trimester, billions of neuronal connections are being made every minute. This is called synaptogenesis. A fetus will already have most of the neurons it will be born with by midpregnancy.

At this stage, there are no major discernible differences between male and female brains. The differences emerge later on mainly due to hormones.

Early Childhood

After birth, the young brain continues to expand rapidly. The cerebral cortex, which controls higher functions like speech, reasoning, and memory, grows thicker as neural connections multiply.

In early childhood, brains of both sexes produce an abundance of gray matter, or neurons. However, this process peaks at age 8 in females compared to age 10 in males.


Puberty marks a major transition period for brain development. This is when major sex differences in structure emerge under the influence of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

In females, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex develop faster. The hippocampus plays roles in memory and spatial awareness. The prefrontal cortex controls planning, reasoning, and impulses. Girls often demonstrate stronger executive function skills at this age.

In males, areas like the amygdala and hypothalamus grow faster. These areas regulate emotions, aggression, and sex drive. The cerebral cortex also thickens more in boys during puberty.


During adolescence, gray matter begins to thin out as neural connections are pruned. Unused synapses are shed to increase efficiency. This makes the brain more streamlined and specialized.

For girls, the pruning tends to happen 1-2 years earlier than in boys. Their brains reach their adult size around age 14 compared to age 16 in boys. However, the male brain can gain more overall volume due to greater growth of white matter.

The corpus callosum finishes developing around age 16-17 in girls compared to 18-19 in boys. This provides greater connectivity between the two hemispheres of the female brain.

Early 20s

In the early 20s, the last part of the brain to mature is the prefrontal cortex. This area controls executive functions like planning, decision-making, reasoning, and impulse control.

For females, prefrontal cortex development may last slightly longer than in males, not completing until the mid-20s. This may explain why young women can struggle more with impulsiveness and planning.

With the prefrontal cortex fully developed, the brain has reached its adult maturity. Neural connections have been optimally streamlined, and the brain’s regions are working together efficiently and effectively.

Factors in Female Brain Maturation

What drives the female brain’s trajectory of development and maturation? Let’s take a look at some of the key biological factors.


Hormones like estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin drive brain development and connectivity in females. The surge of these hormones during puberty spurs structural and functional changes.

Estrogen promotes the growth of neurons and formation of synapses. Progesterone boosts neuron growth in the hippocampus. Oxytocin facilitates bonding, trust and social cognition.

Females also have more estrogen and oxytocin receptors spread through more brain regions. This allows hormones to exert broader developmental effects.

Pruning and Myelination

As mentioned earlier, the pruning of unused neural connections proceeds faster in the female brain. This ramps up efficiency and specialization earlier on.

Myelination, or the insulating of neural connections with white fatty tissue, may also occur faster. This speeds up communication between different brain regions.

Greater connectivity is seen in the female brain. For example, the corpus callosum tends to be larger on average in females compared to males.


The neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin also shape brain maturation. Dopamine boosts activity and motivation for seeking rewards. Serotonin regulates mood, social behavior, and inhibitions.

Females may have more active serotonin systems. This could contribute to heightened empathy, cooperation, and low aggression in girls.


Of course, genetics and epigenetics also play a major role. Sex chromosomes like XX vs. XY produce differences in gene expression in males and females. This impacts early brain development.

Variations in genes involved with neurotransmitters, hormones, and neural growth affect brain structure. But cultural experiences also act on genes through epigenetic mechanisms.


The child’s social environment, relationships, and experiences shape actual realizations of genetic potentials. Nurture combines with nature to wire the growing brain.

For example, a young girl’s spatial skills may be enhanced through exploratory play and engagement with tools and building activities.

Brain Differences Between Females and Males

What are some of the key structural and functional brain differences between females and males once full maturity is reached?

Brain Size

On average, male brains are about 10% larger than female brains. However, this doesn’t mean males are more intelligent. Brain size doesn’t directly correlate with IQ.


Females tend to have greater connectivity between hemispheres. The corpus callosum is often larger with more robust inter-hemispheric links.


On average, females utilize more neural real estate for language processing. Broca’s and Wernicke’s language areas are larger. More white matter connects these regions.


Females often have stronger activation of emotional processing areas like the amygdala and hippocampus. This supports empathy and relationship skills.

Spatial abilities

Males commonly have advantages in mental rotation and spatial reasoning. This may stem from greater parietal lobe activity.

Motor skills

Male brains typically have more gray matter in motor areas. This aids coordination for targeting and throwing.


Females often have higher serotonin levels supporting mood regulation. Males tend to have more dopamine activity driving reward and aggression.

Of course, there is tremendous individual variation within genders. Not every man or woman will follow these average patterns.

Early Maturation in Females: Pros and Cons

Does the female brain’s earlier development provide advantages or disadvantages? There are pros and cons to consider.


  • Girls can demonstrate stronger executive functions like self-control, focus and planning in early adolescence.
  • With earlier pruning, the female brain becomes more efficient and specialized.
  • Girls can exhibit superior language and social skills from early on thanks to greater connectivity between hemispheres.
  • Early maturity of the limbic system supports development of empathy and relationship abilities.


  • Impulsiveness and risk-taking behavior may come earlier in adolescence before the prefrontal cortex matures.
  • Hours lost to pruning may reduce females’ lifetime “cognitive budget” verses males.
  • There are still unknowns regarding how early maturation affects later abilities and brain health.

Maximizing the Female Brain

To maximize lifelong brain health and ability, here are some tips for females across the lifespan:


  • Engage in creative play, games, and problem solving to exercise cognitive skills.
  • Read books and have discussions to build verbal abilities.
  • Try spatial activities like puzzles, blocks, and crafts.
  • Build strong bonds and social connections.


  • Make healthy choices to avoid risky behavior before the prefrontal cortex matures.
  • Continue challenging the brain with academics, arts, sports, and hobbies.
  • Get enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise for optimal brain health.
  • Practice self-reflection and mindfulness to boost mental maturity.


  • Engage in continuous learning and mentally stimulating activities.
  • Read books, try puzzles, take classes to build cognitive reserve.
  • Minimize stress and build social connections for brain health.
  • Adopt lifestyle habits like proper sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.

Menopause & Beyond

  • Consider hormone therapy if menopause brain fog becomes disruptive.
  • Reduce risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking.
  • Discuss medications and supplements that support brain function.
  • Stay mentally, socially, and physically active to guard against decline.

The Enduringly Flexible Female Brain

While the female brain may reach its maturity in the mid-20s, it still retains lifelong neural plasticity. The brain can continue developing, adapting and rewiring with new learning and experiences.

By taking care of physical health, engaging in continual learning, and building positive relationships, women can keep their brains sharp and resilient at every age.


In summary, the key takeaways are:

  • The female brain begins maturing in some regions starting in early adolescence.
  • Pruning of unused synapses ramps up around puberty allowing greater neural efficiency.
  • The prefrontal cortex, governing planning and decision-making, can take longer to fully develop, completing in the mid-20s.
  • Estrogen, progesterone and other hormones drive brain connectivity and development in females.
  • While the female brain may have some advantages from earlier maturation, risks like impulsiveness may also increase.
  • Early maturity does not mean the female brain stops developing – neuroplasticity continues across the lifespan.
  • Mental stimulation, proper sleep, stress management, and exercise help maximize female brain health and ability at all ages.

Understanding the timeline of maturation allows parents, educators, and women themselves to support the developing female brain optimally from childhood through adulthood. While the brain may be fully developed by the mid-20s in terms of peak efficiency, neural plasticity persists for a lifetime.

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