The MTV reality series “16 and Pregnant” may have actually helped to noticeably reduce teen pregnancy in America according to a new working paper by Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip B. Levine.
We investigate whether the show influenced teens’ interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it ultimately altered teen childbearing outcomes. We use data from Google Trends and Twitter to document changes in searches and tweets resulting from the show, Nielsen ratings data to capture geographic variation in viewership, and Vital Statistics birth data to measure changes in teen birth rates. We find that 16 and Pregnant led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.
Apparently the show did a very good job of making the idea of being a teen parent seem very unpleasant.
This is fascinating example of how pop culture, health care, public policy and budget projects all interact. Given how much teen pregnancy can often affect the life of both the mother and child this an issue where the direct impact can be felt for decades.
Fifty years from now we will likely still be feeling the impact of this one reality TV show.