Emerging evidence suggests that temperament may predict childbearing. We examined the association between four temperament traits (novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence and persistence of the Temperament and Character Inventory) and childbearing over the life course in the population-based Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study (n = 1535; 985 women, 550 men). Temperament was assessed when the participants were aged 20–35 and fertility history from adolescence to adulthood was reported by the participants at age 30–45. Discrete-time survival analysis modelling indicated that high childbearing probability was predicted by low novelty seeking (standardized OR = 0.92; 95% confidence interval 0.88–0.97), low harm avoidance (OR = 0.90; 0.85–0.95), high reward dependence (OR = 1.09; 1.03–1.15) and low persistence (OR = 0.91; 0.87–0.96) with no sex differences or quadratic effects. These associations grew stronger with increase in numbers of children. The findings were substantially the same in a completely prospective analysis. Adjusting for education did not influence the associations. Despite its negative association with overall childbearing, high novelty seeking increased the probability of having children in participants who were not living with a partner (OR = 1.29; 1.12–1.49). These data provide novel evidence for the role of temperament in influencing childbearing, and suggest possible weak natural selection of temperament traits in contemporary humans. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.