MTV’s “16 and Pregnant:” Trash television or valuable PSAs that can influence more teenagers to make good choices?
A new economic study from researchers at Wellesley College and the University of Maryland argues the latter — using empirical data to directly link a 5.7 percent decline in teenage pregnancy from 2009 to 2010 to “MTV’s 16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.”
“16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” are reality television programs that document the lives and struggles of teen moms.
In 2010, the cautionary tales portrayed in these popular MTV reality shows prevented more than 20,000 possible births to teenage mothers, according to The New York Times’ calculation.
Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa S. Kearney reached their conclusions, to be published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, by analyzing Neilson ratings, Google, and Twitter data and then looked at teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality microdata to determine the shows’ impact.
By looking at data from Google and Twitter, Levine and Kearney were able to determine what some of the viewers were considering as they watched the shows.
“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,” Levine said in a statement.
And due to a corresponding decline in abortion rates during that time frame, Levine and Kearney believe that teens were more influenced to not get pregnant rather than to get pregnant and then have an abortion.
According to the pair, “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,” specifically in that, they estimate it “led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births that would have been conceived between June 2009, when the show began, and the end of 2010. This can explain around one-third of the total decline in teen births over that period.”
Levine and Kearney conclude that MTV’s approach to teen pregnancy “has the potential to yield large results with important social consequences.”
“Typically, the public concern addresses potential negative influences of media exposure, but this study finds it may have positive influences as well,” they wrote according to a press release.