MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ reducing teen pregnancy

Many believe that certain TV shows dealing with teen pregnancy may have a bad influence on young girls.  However, according to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported that the MTV reality show “16 and Pregnant” 5.7 percent reduction in teen births during the 18 months after its premiere.  According to, researchers of the study Melissa Kearny and Phillip Levine concluded that this would account for the one-third decline of teen birth in the United States during that time.

The show made its premiere in June 2009, and every episode features the story of one teen girl going through her pregnancy. It also takes the audience inside the relationship between her and her baby’s father, family and friends.

There have been several criticisms of the show glamorizing teen pregnancy.  According to Parents Television Council Director Melissa Henson, “Instead of really helping viewers understand the day-to-day responsibilities of attending to a new infant — scrubbing poop stains or spit-up out of clothing — or dwelling on the ‘mundane,’ MTV chooses to focus on the girls’ volatile relationships with the babies’ fathers or their new body piercings and tattoos.”

In order to get the statistics of fewer birth rates, Kearny and Levine looked at Nielsen ratings, and search data from Google Trends and Twitter.  According to, the researchers analyzed geographic data so they could see if the locations with higher search activity and tweets about the show showed higher levels of searches and tweets about birth control and abortion, which it did.

They also checked to see whether certain areas with higher viewings related to a reduction in teen births; it did as well.

“The results of our analysis indicate that exposure to ‘16 and Pregnant’ was high and that it had an influence on teens’ thinking regarding birth control and abortion,” the researchers explained.

They also stated that the tweets would say things such as, “This reminds me to take my birth control” or “Watching 16 & Pregnant, going to take my birth control.”

Kearny explained that the show might have influenced young girls to be more cautious about pregnancy since it shows the unpleasant attributes to being in that position.

“Shows that make it clear how hard it can be … affect girls who might not care otherwise,” she said.  “You see she’s fighting with her boyfriend on a daily basis. She’s gaining weight. Her friends are partying without her,” Kearny explained.

“I think the takeaway here is that media can be, and often is, a force for good.  We have always viewed these particular shows as sex education for the 21st century,” he added.

It’s interesting to see the media having a positive influence on viewers, when in so many other cases it seems to be negative. And while “16 and pregnant” may not be the most intelligent show out there, it is nice to see it making some sort of a difference.



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