Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that — across all racial and ethnic groups — the teen birth rate had been cut in half since 1991. After the research broke, Bill Albert, the Chief Program Officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told the Christian Science Monitor that he believed more access to contraception, coupled with shows like “16 & Pregnant” and its “Teen Mom” spinoffs, which demonstrate how difficult teen parenting can be, played a role in the huge decline. And today, a new study was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research backing Albert’s theory that the MTV series have indeed contributed to falling teen birth rates across the country.
In a paper written by Melissa S. Kearney, the director of the Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College, birth records were compared with Nielsen television ratings since “16 & Pregnant”‘s debut in 2009, and found that the teen birth rates declined faster in areas where youth were watching more MTV.
While the ratings cover other programming besides “16 & Pregnant” and the “Teen Mom” franchise, the study also reported spikes in web searches and tweets about birth control and abortion during the episodes’ airings, signaling an increased awareness about the topics. All of these elements combined “ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following [“16 and Pregnant”‘s] introduction,” the study concluded, which “accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.”
Sarah Brown, Chief Executive of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told The New York Times that the study is proof of the shows’ educational potential. “You can have all the sex-ed you want,’ she said, “but if you can say, ‘Could that happen to me?’ That brings a reality and a heightened connection that is very significant for teenagers.”
+ Check out Wellesley College’s handy infographic breaking down the study, and make sure to tune in for the Season 5 premiere of “Teen Mom 2,” January 21 at 10/9c. Plus, for information on preventing pregnancy, head to MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life website.
Infographic: Wellesley College