While parenting groups have called for shows like MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom to be yanked off the air for glamorizing teen pregnancy, a new study suggests 16 and Pregnant and its spinoffs have actually helped lower the teen birth rate. Yep, in fact a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that examined Nielsen television ratings and birth records states that the shows have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010 alone.
Even though some of the so-called stars of the show have gone on to become C-list celebrities, it seems teens are getting the message loud and clear that pregnancy and raising a baby is hard work—even harder when you're in an unstable relationship, dealing with a major financial crunch and sleepless nights while trying to get through high school, and wishing you were out partying with your friends rather than changing poopy diapers.
The findings suggest that seeing these teen moms—many of which are total messes—has forced teens to take a look at what having sex, especially unprotected sex, can lead to. Luckily, they agree the picture isn't pretty! The show—which can draw up to 3 million viewers per episode, many of which are young females—is credited with an almost 6 percent drop in the overall teen pregnancy decline.
Lead researchers, Melissa S. Kearney, the director of the Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College, looked at Nielsen ratings as well as search data for Google Trends and Twitter to determine the show's potential impact on teen birth rates. They recorded spikes in Google searches and Twitter mentions about the show when new episodes aired and looked for searches on terms like "birth control" and "abortion," which also spiked. They then looked to see if higher viewership in certain geographic areas corresponded with a bigger drop in teen births. It did.
Over all, they found that the rate of teenage pregnancy declined in areas where teens were watching more MTV programming than in areas where they did not. According to the New York Times, they weren't able to know whether individual viewers of the programs "changed their behaviors to avoid unprotected sex, but the researchers were able to correlate viewership over all with reduced birthrates."
In 1991, 62 teenage girls out of every 1,000 gave birth. By 2007, that dropped to 42 out of 1,000. In 2012, the birthrate dropped even lower to 29 out of 1,000. The study found that watching 16 and Pregnant can account for about one-third of the decline during an 18-month period in 2010. Can you believe it?
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Image of woman taking birth control courtesy of Shutterstock.