Adults Born Pre-Term Tend to Have Fewer Romantic and Close Relationships

Adults who were born pre-term (fewer than 37 gestational weeks) are notably less likely to have a fulfilling romantic relationship, sexual partner, and parenting opportunity than those who were born full term. Observing a collection of data from more nearly 4.4 million adults, researchers at the University of Warwick found that those born preterm are actually 28 percent less likely to experience these types of relationships. 

Data certainly tells us that close and intimate relationships (including romantic) have been associated with increased happiness and both physical and mental well-being.  At the same time, other studies show that forming these relationships can be quite a struggle for those pre-term born adults, typically because they are born timid and socially withdrawn and tend to take fewer risks.

University of Warwick Department of Psychology’s Dr. Marina Goulart de Mendonca explains that while it appears adults who were born preterm are less likely to have a partner and/or have sex and become parents, the trend does not appear to be linked with a higher rate of disability. 

The lead study author notes, instead, preterm-born children have been found, in previous studies, to have poorer social interactions during childhood. That, she says, will “make it harder for them to master social transitions such as finding a partner, which in turn is proven to boost your wellbeing.”

Similarly, University of Warwick Department of Psychology’s Professor Dieter Wolke also comments that those who care for preterm children—including the parent’s health professionals and school teachers—should have more awareness of the important role social development and social interaction play in the development of preterm children.  

Also a lead study author, Professor Wolke continues, “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.”  

And all of these things, of course, enhances overall well-being. Fortunately, the data shows that even those with fewer close relationships can experience high quality intimacy as full-term born adults when have close friends or a partner.  

The study—Association of Preterm Birth/Low Birth Weight with Romantic Partnership, Sexual Intercourse, and Parenthood in Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis—was published last week in the journal JAMA Network Open.