Early, late or average age of menopause – understanding the difference

Average age of menopause time passing


There are different views about what is average age of menopause and what is early and late. On this page you can find out what these terms mean.


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Average age of menopause

When talking about the age when a majority of women have had their last menstrual period, it can be more helpful to use the "average" or "mean" age of menopause.

Most women stop menstruating around the age of 50, and the average age in the developed world is 51.4 years (1).

Another study that included data from 26 different countries, both rich and poor, calculated a lower average age of 49.24 years (2).

It should always be remembered that average age is just that: an average. Any individual woman can vary quite a lot compared with an average. For instance, although the average age of menopause in developed countries is 51.4 years, there is a range from a low of about age 40 (early), to a high or late menopause age of 58 years.

The average age of menopause depends on the population studied to calculate the average.

For instance an average menopause age of 50-51 was reported in studies on women in the USA, Italy, Iran and Slovenia, whereas the average age was reported as being between 47 and 50 in Korea, Lebanon, Turkey, Singapore, Greece, Morocco, Mexico and Taiwan (3) Read more about menopause in different cultures here.

Some women's periods stop in their early forties, while others can still be menstruating in their late fifties. And although menopause may be classified as either "early" or "late" – this is part a normal pattern of variation between women.


Early menopause

In Western cultures, a menopause age between 40 and 45 is regarded as early, although this is usually quite normal. There is a lot of natural variation among women and these age cut-offs are a bit arbitrary.

For instance the cut-off line between what is defined as normal, early menopause and what is defined as abnormal, premature menopause is not agreed on by everybody.

Although it might seem simple, it is quite complicated getting comparable figures for menopause age. This is because calculating the average age of menopause depends not only on which women researchers ask, but also on how they ask their questions, and on how they do their sums to work out the averages.

Also what is common in one community may be less common in another. For instance menopause comes slightly earlier in Southern Europe compared with Northern Europe (4), and in Puebla, Mexico, 29% of women had experienced natural menopause before age 45 but in Asunción, Paraguay, only 12% were postmenopausal by age 45 (5).

If menstruation ends permanently before the age of 40 this is usually called premature menopause. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for premature menopause – such as surgery, a known disease or a genetic abnormality, but in some cases the cause of premature menopause is unknown. For links to sites with more information on premature and early menopause check the bibliography below.


Late menopause

It is very unusual for a woman to still be menstruating naturally when she hits 60, the record for a last period being age 62.

The oldest age of menopause in many studies is in the late fifties. The oldest natural mother is believed to be a British woman who was 59 when she gave birth to a son in 1997 (6). Women have given birth older than this but this has been with the help of fertility treatment using an egg donated by a younger woman.

Apart from genes and geography, ethnicity and culture also seem to influence menopause age.

Researchers who looked at a racially/ethnically diverse population of over 90,000 women in the USA, found that Japanese race/ethnicity was associated with late average age of menopause, and Latina women had an early menopause age compared with white, non-Latina American women (1). In this study African-American women did not have a significantly different menopause age from non-Latina, White women, though other studies have suggested that they may have go through menopause somewhat earlier.

These differences in menopause age by ethnic group were also found in the big US menopause study known as the "SWAN" study. In the "SWAN", researchers found that Japanese women had a significantly later average age of natural menopause than Caucasians, and Hispanic women a significantly earlier one (7).


At what age will you have your menopause?

This is the million dollar question!

At the moment it is impossible to predict your menopause age with real accuracy Click to read more about predicting menopause age.

It's important to remember though, that in spite of hundreds of studies looking at all sorts of factors that might affect your menopause age, the main influence still seems to be inheritance (1). But other factors to do with lifestyle and even your birth weight may all play a part.


Read about 8 things that can affect menopause age

Bibliography

  1. Henderson KD. et al Predictors of Timing of Natural Menopause in the Multiethnic Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiology. 2008;167:1287-94

  2. Thomas F., et al. International Variability of Ages of Menarche and Menopause: Patterns and Main Determinants. Human Biology 2001; 73: 271-90
  3. Nelson HD. Menopause. The Lancet 2008;371:760-70
  4. Palacios S., et al. Age of menopause and impact of climacteric symptoms by geographical region. Climacteric 2010;13:419-428
  5. Lynnette Leidy Sievert, Menopause. A Biocultural Perspective. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick 2006.
  6. The Telegraph, 20th August 2007
  7. Gold EB., et al. Factors associated with age at natural menopause in a multiethnic sample of midlife women. Am J of Epidemiology 2001;153:865-74.

For further information about premature menopause, visit these sites:

Early Menopause.com

The Daisy Network - support group for premature & early menopause

Published May 7th 2011.

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