Estimating age from the pubic symphysis: A new component-based system

Beatrix Dudzik, Natalie R. Langley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The os pubis is one of the most widely used areas of the skeleton for age estimation. Current pubic symphyseal aging methods for adults combine the morphology associated with the developmental changes that occur into the mid-30s with the degenerative changes that span the latter portion of the age spectrum. The most popular methods are phase-based; however, the definitions currently used to estimate age intervals may not be adequately defined and/or accurately understood by burgeoning researchers and seasoned practitioners alike. This study identifies patterns of growth and maturation in the pubic symphysis to derive more precise age estimates for individuals under 40 years of age. Emphasis is placed on young adults to provide more informative descriptions of epiphyseal changes associated with the final phases of skeletal maturation before degeneration commences. This study investigated macroscopic changes in forensically relevant modern U.S. samples of known age, sex, and ancestry from the Maricopa County Forensic Science Center in Phoenix, Arizona as well as donated individuals from the William M. Bass Forensic and Donated Collections at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (n= 237). Age-related traits at locations with ontogenetic and biomechanical relevance were broken into components and scored. The components included the pubic tubercle, the superior apex of the face, the ventral and dorsal demifaces, and the ventral and dorsal symphyseal margins. Transition analysis was applied to elucidate the transition ages between the morphological states of each component. The categorical scores and transition analysis ages were subjected to multinomial logistic regression and decision tree analysis to derive accurate age interval estimates. Results of these analyses were used to construct a decision tree-style flow chart for practitioner use. High inter-rater agreement of the individual component traits (linear weighted kappa values ≥0.665 for all traits in the decision tree) indicates that the method offers unambiguous scoring for age-related changes of the pubic symphysis. Validation of the flow chart on a sample of 47 individuals provided by the Montana State Crime Lab yielded 94% accuracy overall, indicating that the method has the potential to deliver precise and accurate age estimates of individuals prior to the onset of advanced degenerative changes. A pubic symphysis that exhibits epiphyseal changes and/or billowing is suitable for this method; a pubic symphysis that exhibits degenerative changes (i.e. porosity and/or rim erosion) is not suitable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-105
Number of pages8
JournalForensic Science International
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Age estimation
  • Biological profile
  • Classification trees
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Logistic regression
  • Pubic symphysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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