’16 and Pregnant’ Efficient Contraception?

16 and pregnant16 and Pregnant, the MTV reality series about the daily lives of pregnant teens, is being deemed as efficient contraception according to a new study, Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing, published Monday by The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The study demonstrates a significant reduction in teen pregnancies due to 16 and Pregnant and also the Teen Mom series, the sequel to 16 and Pregnant that follows the last days of pregnancy and the first days of teen motherhood.

What the study authors, Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, found in their analysis of the data is that, in spite of the dip in teen pregnancies between the years 2008 and 2012 (the recession period), Google searches for birth control and abortions increased after viewing episodes of the series. In fact, they concluded that a 5.7 percent reduction in overall teen births are attributed to viewing the series, which accounts for around a third of the decrease in overall teen pregnancies in the U.S., in the 18 months after 16 and Pregnant premiered.

The rate of abortions, however, could not be accounted for because of “data limitations.” Although Tumblr is the social media platform of choice for teenagers, a healthy number of teens use Twitter, which Kearney and Levine used to evaluate their data. Twitter conversations showed teens being influenced by 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, saying the shows help them remember to take their birth control, and even citing the series as “the best form of birth control.”

Additional data the authors made good use of for the study were Nielsen ratings and Google Trends. The conclusion is that 16 and Pregnant has proven to be efficient contraception. Kearney says she began thinking about the connection between the two MTV series and teen pregnancy rates after seeing mention of it in the media, especially after reading a statement by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy saying that 16 and Pregnant was having a positive effect on the decline in teen pregnancies.

Although some may see these shows as romanticizing teen pregnancy, MTV president Stephen Friedman says the two series were intended to be cautionary tales about teen motherhood. Kearney and Levine concede there are positive aspects to having these series on the air despite the reputation of such series being gratuitous viewing. “Interestingly, usually we talk about the media as a negative effect on behavior — an increase in violence, an increase in sex — but this show suggests that context really matters” Kearney says. “So in this case, the media images seem to be really having a positive social effect to the extent that we think that a reduction in teen births is a good thing.”

While Kearney and Levine are not attributing the sharp downturn in teen pregnancies entirely to 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, they say both series can be effective deterrents as they show the daily hardships of young parents struggling with a newborn baby while looking for a job and maintaining relationships with partners and families. Judging from the nearly six percent decrease in teen pregnancies as a result of viewing both MTV series, it is apparent that some shows do more good than bad by showing real life as it is meant to be shown, and not glamorized. The new study shows that 16 and Pregnant is efficient contraception.

By Juana Poareo



The National Bureau of Economic Research



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