A new study has found that adults who were born pre-term — under 37 weeks gestation — are less likely to form romantic relationships, have sexual relations, or experience parenthood than those who were born full term.
Researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK suggests it’s partly due to pre-term birth being associated with being withdrawn, shy, socially excluded, and less likely to take risks in adolescence.
A meta-analysis by the researchers of data from 4.4 million adults showed that those born preterm are 28 percent less likely to ever be in a romantic relationship and 22 percent less likely to become parents.
Those studies that looked at sexual relations of pre-term children also found that they were 2.3 times less likely to ever have a sexual partner, according to researchers.
Adults who were born very (<32 weeks gestation) or extremely preterm <28 weeks gestation) had even lower chances of experiencing sexual relationships, finding a romantic partner, or having children at the same age as those born full term, with the extremely pre-term born adults being 3.2 times less likely to ever have sexual relations, according to the study’s findings.
Close and intimate relationships have been shown to increase happiness and well-being both physically and mentally. However, studies also show that forming those relationships is harder for pre-term born adults, as they are usually timid, socially withdrawn, and low in risk-taking and fun seeking.
Despite having fewer close relationships, the meta-analysis also revealed that when preterm born adults had friends or a partner, the quality of these relationships was at least as good as those in full term born adults.
“The finding that adults who were born pre-term are less likely to have a partner, to have sex, and become parents does not appear to be explained by a higher rate of disability,” said Dr. Marina Goulart de Mendonça from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick and first author of the paper. “Rather preterm born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood that make it harder for them to master social transitions, such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”
“Those caring for preterm children, including parents, health professionals, and teachers, should be more aware of the important role of social development and social integration for pre-term children,” added Professor Dieter Wolke, also of the University of Warwick and senior author. “As preterm children tend to be more timid and shy, supporting them making friends and be integrated in their peer group will help them to find romantic partners, have sexual relationships and to become parents — all of which enhances wellbeing.”
The study was published in JAMA Network Open.
Source: University of Warwick