Adults who were born following a gestation of less than 37 weeks have lower chances of forming romantic relationships, or having children, compared with those who were born full-term at 40 weeks, according to research by psychologists at the University of Warwick.


The study, which pulled together the results from 4.4 million adults, found that those who were born premature are 28 per cent less likely to form romantic relationships and 22 per cent less likely to become parents than adults who were born full-term. They were also 2.3 times less likely to ever have sex. Adults who were born extremely early, before 32 weeks, have even worse chances.

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Other studies have suggested that premature birth is linked with being shy, withdrawn and less inclined to risky behaviour, which is why people who were born early may end up socially excluded or struggling to form relationships.

“The finding that adults who were born pre-term [early] 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, who took part in the research.

"Rather pre-term 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.”

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The researchers say that as premature children tend to be more withdrawn, it is especially important for parents and teachers to encourage kids to build friendships, as this will help develop their social skills.

But take heart: despite pre-term adults having fewer close relationships, the friendships they do form are just as good as those of full-term adults.


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Alice Lipscombe-SouthwellManaging editor, BBC Science Focus

Alice is the managing editor at BBC Science Focus Magazine. She has a BSc in zoology with marine zoology. Her interests include natural history, wildlife, the outdoors, health and fitness.