Young adults who were born very small tend to strike out on their own later in life than their full-term peers, Finnish researchers report.
Individuals in their late teens and twenties who weighed less than 1 500 grams at birth were less likely to have left their parents' home, to be living with an intimate partner, or to be having sex than people of the same age who were a normal weight at birth, Dr Eero Kajantie of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki and his colleagues found.
While it may take these men and women longer to become independent, Kajantie noted in an interview with Reuters Health, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"In a way, to be careful has many advantages, although you lose some possibilities," he said.
Previous research by Kajantie and his colleagues found that low birth weight adults are more conscientious, dutiful and agreeable. And, the researcher added, there's good scientific evidence to show that "the more conscientious you are, the longer you are likely to live."
How the study was done
To examine how known personality traits of adults born very small might affect their maturation, he and his colleagues looked at 162 very low birth weight young adults and 188 normal birth weight adults who ranged in age from 18 to 27. The group's average age was about 22.
At the time of the survey, the very low birth weight individuals were 29% less likely to have lived with a spouse or intimate partner and 75% more likely to still be living with their parents.
Low birth weight young women were more than twice as likely to still be virgins, while their male counterparts' likelihood of never having had sex was nearly triple that of their normal birth weight peers. On average, the very low birth weight individuals had fewer lifetime sexual partners than full-term individuals.
The low birth weight men's shorter average stature might play a role in their relative lack of sexual experience, the researchers suggest.
"A slower tempo of leaving the parental home, starting cohabitation, and having sexual experience is likely to carry both benefits and disadvantages for health and quality of life," they write in the July issue of Paediatrics.
They conclude: "Although none of these findings is beneficial or disadvantageous per se, together they may have a profound impact on how very low birth weight individuals attain their place as adult members of society." – (Reuters Health)
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