In 2008, 40 out of every 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth. By 2011, that number had fallen to 31 out of every 1,000. And according to a new study, the recent decline in teen births means we should all be thanking … MTV?
Wellesley economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa S. Kearney recently conducted a study that showed how the decline in the U.S. teen birth rate accelerated between 2008 and 2011, and how shows such as MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom played a crucial role.
For those who haven’t see the shows, each episode of 16 and Pregnant follows a different teen through her pregnancy, childbirth, and first weeks of parenthood. The show’s spinoff, Teen Mom, picks up with a handful of the new mothers and continues following them through their first months, sometimes years, of parenthood.
Levine and Kearney’s study found that the two series led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births. Therefore, the shows can account for about one-third of the decline in teen births for the year and a half after the shows were introduced.
Kearney and Levine looked at birth records and Nielsen TV ratings to find that teen pregnancy was declining faster in areas where more teens were watching the MTV shows than in areas where teens were not. All in all, the study suggests the MTV programs might have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010.
The study also looked at the shows’ influence on teen behavior, examining how social-media postings and Internet searches about contraception increased when the show was airing. So perhaps those parents who forced their teens to watch the show knew exactly what they were doing.
And the lesson isn’t finished yet. The next season of Teen Mom 2 premieres Jan. 21.