Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New study finds MTV’s '16 and Pregnant,' 'Teen Mom' contributed to record decline in U.S. teen childbearing rate

Date:
January 13, 2014
Source:
Wellesley College
Summary:
The U.S. teen birth rate fell rapidly between 2008 and 2012. The Great Recession played the biggest role in the decline, explaining more than half of the drop, but a new study shows that that the timing of the introduction of MTV's "16 and Pregnant" also had a significant impact on the staggering drop in teen birth rates.

Infographic depicting new research that suggests that two MTV programs helped to reduce teen pregnancies in the United States.
Credit: Wellesley College

Despite concerns that turning teen moms into reality TV stars has glamorized teen pregnancy, a new study shows that MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have had a more powerful impact in the opposite direction: the series has significantly reduced births to teens.

The research, coauthored by Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa S. Kearney, finds that MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births, which accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the year and a half following the show's introduction in 2009. The study, "Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing," will be published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, January 13, 2014.

As Kearney and Levine addressed in an earlier study, the U.S. teen birth rate ranks high among developed countries, although it has been declining dramatically over the past 20 years and is now at a historic low. In particular, the U.S. teen birth rate fell rapidly between 2008 and 2012. The researchers showed that the Great Recession played the biggest role, explaining more than half of the staggering drop in the most recent, sharp decline. However, the economists also theorized that the timing of the introduction of MTV's 16 and Pregnant is such that it could also have contributed to the staggering drop in teen birth rates. This theory launched the first study to offer a credible estimate of the causal effect of specific media content on teen childbearing rates.

Kearney and Levine investigated whether the show influenced teens' interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it ultimately altered teen childbearing. "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 Professor Kearney.

To determine the show's impact on teens, Kearney and Levine conducted an in-depth empirical study, analyzing several measures of exposure, including Nielsen ratings data and metrics from Google and Twitter. The researchers then examined the impact on teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality microdata.

Kearney and Levine show that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have a large and highly engaged following, win ratings wars, and lead teens to search for and tweet about the themes within. They also find that searches and tweets about birth control and abortion spike exactly when the show is on and in locations where it is more popular. According to Professor Levine, "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. 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."

Their most important finding, though, is 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," according to Kearney and Levine. Their estimates imply that these shows "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."

Although data limitations precluded Kearney and Levine from conducting separate analyses of abortions, the researchers note that teen abortion rates also fell over this period -- suggesting that the shows' impact is likely attributable to a reduction in pregnancy rather than greater use of abortion.

According to the authors, the finding that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom had an impact suggests that MTV drew in teens who actually were at risk of teen childbearing and conveyed to them information that led them to change their behavior, preventing them from giving birth at such a young age. "The fact that MTV knows how to make shows that teens like to watch, which speak to them in ways that resonate, presumably is critical to the show's impact," they said.

"This approach has the potential to yield large results with important social consequences," concluded Kearney and Levine. "Typically, the public concern addresses potential negative influences of media exposure, but this study finds it may have positive influences as well."

"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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellesley College. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine. Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing. National Bureau of Economic Research, January 2014

Cite This Page:

Wellesley College. "New study finds MTV’s '16 and Pregnant,' 'Teen Mom' contributed to record decline in U.S. teen childbearing rate." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140113095145.htm>.
Wellesley College. (2014, January 13). New study finds MTV’s '16 and Pregnant,' 'Teen Mom' contributed to record decline in U.S. teen childbearing rate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140113095145.htm
Wellesley College. "New study finds MTV’s '16 and Pregnant,' 'Teen Mom' contributed to record decline in U.S. teen childbearing rate." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140113095145.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 22, 2014) Big pharma on the move as Novartis boss, Joe Jimenez, tells Reuters about plans to transform his company via an asset exchange with GSK, and Astra Zeneca shares surge on speculation that Pfizer is looking for a takeover. Joanna Partridge reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is given hands-on demonstrations Tuesday of some of the newest research from DARPA _ the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins