MTV's '16 and Pregnant' May Reduce Teenage Pregnancy

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pregnancy myths, busted.

The MTV series "16 and Pregnant" follows a different young woman each week as she makes decisions about her life and the life of her child, and copes with her family's reaction. Devon Broyles allowed MTV's cameras to follow her for the program in season four. 

Each week as many as three million viewers tune in to "16 and Pregnant" and its spin-off, "Teen Mom." While some have criticized the show for making stars out of very young mothers, a new study co-authored by economist Melissa Kearney indicates that the show may actually help prevent teen pregnancy. 

Along with her her co-author Phillip Levine, Kearney, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland and director of the Hamilton Project, found that the show and its spin-off may have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010, reducing the teenage pregnancy rate by nearly six percent.

But how can these researchers be sure that this TV show prevented 20,000 births?

"It could have gone either way—we didn't know the way this particular media portrayal of teen pregnancy was going to resonate with teens," says Kearney.

This economist says that she and her co-author used sophisticated statistical analyses to get to the bottom of causal relationships and data.

"We worked very hard to relate viewership of this show to subsequent trends in teen childbearing," says Kearney. "The way we've done this is to look across markets in the USA and look in the places where more teens were watching this show. How did subsequent trends in teen childbearing relate to that viewership? What we find is that in places where more teens are watching MTV, we see larger decreases in rates of teen childbearing. This was pretty compelling evidence."

Kearney says that Google search and Twitter data were also examined as well. This data, Kearney says, helped the researchers to determine what teens were thinking while watching programs like "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom."

"That confirmed for us what we were seeing in terms of the birth data," she says. "What we found in the Google and Twitter data was that when this show aired, the next day we saw large spikes in searches on Google for 'How to get birth control.'"

When examining the data from Twitter, Kearney says the researchers also saw large spikes of people tweeting about the television shows and birth control during the airing of these programs.

"In fact, those increases in searches and tweets correspond to the places where more young adults are watching MTV," she says. 

But what is the impact of "16 and Pregnant" on the national teen birthrate? Kearney says that the data suggests that this show has led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months since it first aired in 2009.

"That is a very large effect," says Kearney. "I also want to emphasize that it is a plausible effect. We know over this period since the show aired starting in 2009, there was a steep rate of decline off of an ongoing trend. We attribute half of that steepness to the Great Recession—births respond to economic conditions, and that's true of non-teen births and teen births. When it's harder to get a job to support your family, fewer people have babies. This show accounts for a third of the decline."

Broyles, who is 19-years-old and has joint custody of her 2-year-old son, says she did not become pregnant to land a spot on television.

"I wanted people to see the reality of it—to get the message out there that it's not easy," says Broyles. "I see young girls and they're talking about getting pregnant. It's not how people portray it and that's what the show kind of shows."

Broyles says she doesn't recommend that other young women follow her lead.

"If I could prevent one pregnancy that would be amazing," she says. "It is not easy being a teen parent."


Devon Broyles and Melissa Kearney

Produced by:

Allie Ferguson and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [9]

claire from california

im suprised this show dosent talk about adoption as an option for some of these moms,. if their situations are really that they cant raise the child then there are families that would want to and could. so i think it be positive to mention this more to these moms that feel they have no choices. i also believe the families could be more supportive and realize that being a parent is a new experience for anyone not just for a certain takes time to learn and grow as a person and parent.a woman can still have a good life and a child.

Jun. 13 2014 08:30 AM
Vlad from Central, NJ

I'm glad to see a TV show trying to make an impact on one of our major Social problems.

How many American know that the US has the highest Teenage Pregnancy rate amongst all of the Industrialized countries in the world?

Jan. 14 2014 04:47 PM
JonnyO from Saint Pul

Based the the positive effect this show had had on reducung teen pregnancies, I suggest the producers should do a show on teen driving and texting. Showing the horrific traffic accidents,deaths, and impact on individulas and families as a result of texting while driving might help reduce this behavior as well.

Jan. 14 2014 03:03 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Not only has "16 and Pregnant" promoted safe sex, but is such a complete turn-off that it has completed stopped sex from happening entirely.

Jan. 14 2014 02:04 PM

Sam- Abortion rates have gone down.

Jan. 14 2014 01:38 PM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

she's not brave she was pregnant. it's sensationalism.

Jan. 14 2014 09:56 AM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

uh, is she a rep from viacom? how does MTV not promote sex? that's all it does. young sex no less. I bet abortion has risen, but not because of mtv because of our culture changing.

Jan. 14 2014 09:53 AM
Sam Winston from Detroit, Michigan

she's right tho, Matt is flaky.

Jan. 14 2014 09:51 AM
Ed from Larchmont

How beautiful is a pregnant woman.

Jan. 14 2014 09:00 AM

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