MTV Teen Reality Shows Help Curb Teen Pregnancy Rates

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

While many have claimed that reality shows on MTV have no redeeming values, a new study has found that the popular shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” may have actually contributed to a record drop in teen pregnancies.

Teen pregnancy rates have been falling over the past two decades, and many experts point to the Great Recession as playing a big role in this phenomenon. However, the new study’s statistical analysis has found that the two MTV shows contributed to a 5.7 percent drop in teen births, equivalent to about one-third of the overall reduction in teen births over the course of a year-and-a-half after the show’s premier in 2009.

Published on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study investigated whether the two shows affected teens’ interest in contraception or abortion, and if it ultimately resulted in a change in the teen pregnancy rate.

“In some circles, the idea that teenagers respond to media content is a foregone conclusion, but determining whether the media images themselves cause the behavior is a very difficult empirical task,” said study author Melissa Schettini Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland.

In the study, the researchers analyzed Nielsen ratings data – along with metrics taken from Google and Twitter. The study team then looked at any impact on teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality data set.

The researchers found that Internet searches and social media posts about birth control and abortion jump precisely when either show is on and where it is most popular.

“Our use of data from Google Trends and Twitter enable us to provide some gauge of what viewers are thinking about when they watch the show,” said Phillip B. Levine, an economist at Wellesley College. “We conclude that exposure to 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom was high and that it had an influence on teens’ thinking regarding birth control and abortion.”

In their report, the study team said that “the introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth.”

The researcher noted that they were unable to conduct a separate analysis of abortions, but some data has shown that teen abortion rates also fell over the same period of time as the study—indicating that the shows likely caused a decrease in pregnancy rather than higher incidence of abortion.

“When we developed ’16 and Pregnant,’ teen birth rates were reported to be on the rise, so we created this series as a cautionary tale on the hard realities of teen pregnancy. We are deeply grateful to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy for their expert guidance,” said Stephen Friedman, President of MTV. “We’ve always believed that storytelling can be a powerful catalyst for change, and are incredibly heartened by this news.”

“The entertainment media can be, and often is, a force for good,” said Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “One of the nation’s great success stories of the past two decades has been the historic declines in teen pregnancy. MTV and other media outlets have undoubtedly increased attention to the risks and reality of teen pregnancy and parenthood and, as this research shows, have likely played a role in the nation’s remarkable progress.”

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