People who were born premature may be unlucky in love, research suggests.
A study of more than four million people found those born at under 37 weeks were almost a third (28 per cent) less likely to ever be in a romantic relationship.
They were also 2.3 times more likely to be lifelong virgins than those delivered at full term, the research adds.
Premature babies are more at risk of learning difficulties and mental health problems in later life, past studies have shown.
This may cause them to be shy, socially awkward and less inclined to take risks.
The UK scientists behind the recent study believe these traits make it harder for preemies to ‘master social transitions such as finding a partner’.
Premature babies may be more likely to be unlucky in love in later life, according to research studying more than four million people (stock images)
The research was carried out by the University of Warwick and led by Dr Marina Goulart de Mendonça, of the department of psychology.
‘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,’ Dr Goulart de Mendonça said.
‘Rather preterm born children have been previously found to have poorer social interactions in childhood.
‘[This] makes it harder for them to master social transitions such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.’
Relationships have been shown to boost our health, happiness and quality of life, the researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Studies have thrown up conflicting results on whether being born premature affects a baby’s later love life.
To better understand this, the researchers analysed 21 studies, with a total of 4.4million participants, on the subject.
Results revealed the adults who were born too soon were 28 per cent less likely to ever form a romantic relationship than those who were delivered full term.
WHAT IS A PREMATURE BIRTH? AND WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO BABIES?
Around 10 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide result in premature labour – defined as a delivery before 37 weeks.
When this happens, not all of the baby’s organs, including the heart and lungs, will have developed. They can also be underweight and smaller.
Tommy’s, a charity in the UK, says this can mean preemies ‘are not ready for life outside the womb’.
Premature birth is the largest cause of neonatal mortality in the US and the UK, according to figures.
Babies born early account for around 1,500 deaths each year in the UK. In the US, premature birth and its complications account for 17 per cent of infant deaths.
Babies born prematurely are often whisked away to neonatal intensive care units, where they are looked after around-the-clock.
What are the chances of survival?
- Less than 22 weeks is close to zero chance of survival
- 22 weeks is around 10%
- 24 weeks is around 60%
- 27 weeks is around 89%
- 31 weeks is around 95%
- 34 weeks is equivalent to a baby born at full term
They were also 2.3 times less likely to ever be sexually active and 22 per cent less likely to one day become parents.
The adults who were born very premature, defined as less than 32 weeks, or extremely pre-term, less than 28 weeks, were particularly unlucky in love.
The results showed the extremely premature participants were 3.2 times less likely to ever have sex.
‘Prematurity has been associated with a personality profile that includes being timid, socially withdrawn, over-controlling and low in risk-taking or fun-seeking,’ the researchers wrote.
‘These differences may predispose [premature babies] to face greater difficulties in establishing romantic and peer relationships.’
The researchers believe this may be due to cognitive difficulties that develop as a result of less time in the womb.
Having stressed parents who are trying to cope with raising a premature newborn may also affect a person’s social skills, they add.
Although premature babies may struggle to couple up as adults, the study found those that do find love have just as meaningful relationships as their full-term counterparts.
The researchers are calling for parents and schools to encourage children who were born prematurely to be sociable at a young age.
Study author Professor Dieter Wolke, of the department of psychology, said: ‘Those caring for preterm children should be more aware of the important role of social development and social integration for pre-term children.
‘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 researchers stress, however, their study review did not take into account whether the participants suffered disabilities as a result of being born premature.
It also included a range of studies that assessed relationship satisfaction and intimacy differently.
The researchers are therefore calling for a smaller study to be carried out that looks for a consistent outcome across all the participants.
Research should also look into the ‘mechanisms through which biological and environmental factors interplay’ during a premature baby’s development, they add.