LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom may have helped reduce the teen birth rate in the U.S. over the past few years, according to a new study co-authored by a University of Maryland economist.
Melissa Schettini Kearney, working with Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine, found that the programs led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the year and a half following their launch in 2009. That accounts for about a third of the overall decline during that time period.
Their research also found that the Great Recession had the largest affect on the rapid teen birth rate decline between 2008 and 2012.
The study, “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing,” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research Monday.
To obtain the data they used to make their conclusions, Kearney and Levine analyzed several measures of exposure, including Nielsen ratings data and metrics from Google and Twitter. Then they examined the impact on teen birth rates by observing data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
According to a media release on the study, the data “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.” It also revealed that “tweets about birth control and abortion spike exactly when the show is on and in locations where it is more popular.”
The research has been met with responses from both MTV and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
“This new research shows that, rather than glamorizing teen pregnancy and parenting as some have suggested, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are more sobering than salacious,” says National Campaign CEO Sarah Brown.
“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,” according to Stephen Friedman, MTV President. “We’ve always believed that storytelling can be a powerful catalyst for change, and are incredibly heartened by this news.”