New advice for those worried about their fertility — keep worrying! Women with "neurotic" personalities apparently have more kids, although those offspring are at greater risk of malnutrition.
According to ScienceDaily, University of Sheffield researchers gave personality tests to women in rural Senegal, and found that women who scored high in neuroticism (meaning they were "anxious, depressive, and moody") had 12% more kids than those whose scores were lower than average. However, their kids were also more likely to suffer from low BMI, a marker of malnourishment. The study coverage doesn't discuss whether this resulted from simply having more mouths to feed, but since the effect of neuroticism on fertility was actually strongest for women of "high social status" (who may have had more resources), there may be something else at work. The researchers also looked at men, who were likely to have more kids if they were highly extroverted — it's unclear whether this is just because they were always out knocking people up.
The study apparently contradicts research carried out in more developed countries, where more neurotic women have lower birth rates. Lead study author Dr. Virpi Lummaa tells the Daily Mail,
Women who are highly neurotic tend to have more short-term sexual partners, suggesting a link between their sex drive and personality trait. In the type of society where contraception is not common that could explain why these women have more children.
Lummaa and her team apparently conducted their research in part to determine why what the Mail calls a "negative" personality trait would continue to be passed down in human populations. But is neuroticism really wholly negative? Just as people with "insecure attachment styles" may alert groups to dangerous situations, maybe neurotic people keep all those happy-go-lucky non-worriers from getting eaten by bears. And while neurotic moms may have smaller babies, they probably make up for it by warning them about ticks, mono, strangers, broken glass, and all the other things neurotics know are out there to kill us all.
Neurotic Women 'More Fertile Than Laid-Back Peers', Say Scientists [Daily Mail]
Personality Can Predict Fertility [ScienceDaily]