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Teen Pregnancy Rates in the US and the Effect of Reality Shows

Wired.co.uk reports on a joint study between Wellesly College and the University of Maryland that looked into whether or not popular shows like MTV's Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant have any effect on teen pregnancy rates.

The new study, coauthored by Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine and University of Maryland economist Melissa Schettini Kearney, found Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen pregnancies from 2009 to 2010.


They used data from Google Trends and Twitter to identify the topics of dialog that were most prominent surrounding the show at the times it aired and in locations where it was popular. Discussions about birth control and abortion spiked.

Of particular interest though was the actual decline they were able to attribute:

Crucially however, they found that Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, as well as the spin-off show Teen Mom 2, "led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth". Consequently they estimated that there was a "5.7 percent reduction in teen births that would have been conceived between June 2009, when the show began, and the end of 2010. This can explain around one-third of the total decline in teen births over that period."

Teen abortions rates also fell over this period, which Levine and Kearney see as further evidence that the shows are partly responsible for a reduction in pregnancies.


The article is quick to point out that an earlier reported study by Indiana University and Utah University showed frequent teen viewers of these types of shows felt that "teen moms have a lot of time to themselves, can easily find child care so that they can go to work or school and can complete high school." Of course, Wired.co.uk reported the study also said "it would be inappropriate to suggest viewing these programmes will cause teen pregnancy, but that it was nonetheless worth considering them as a 'contributing factor.'"

For what it's worth, series creator Lauren Dolgen has asserted that she believes the shows provoke discussion and show details about the real lived experiences of women.

We believe that our audience is smart enough to view "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant" as the shows were intended — as cautionary tales about the consequences of unprotected sex, and the reality of becoming a parent too early.

In fact, research by the National Campaign found that among teens who watch "16 and Pregnant," 82 percent believe the show helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it.


Regardless of the effects, the unfortunate reality is that teen pregnancies are a particular problem in the US and affect different socioeconomic groups differently. From the CDC:

The U.S. teen pregnancy, birth, sexually transmitted disease (STD), and abortion rates are substantially higher than those of other western industrialized nations.

Non-Hispanic black youth, Hispanic/Latino youth, American Indian/Alaska Native youth, and socioeconomically disadvantaged youth of any race or ethnicity experience the highest rates of teen pregnancy and childbirth.


However, the US has seen success. From a report by the Guttmacher Institute dated March of 2013:

Teen pregnancy rates in all 50 states have steadily declined over the past 20 years. While the increase in the rate in some states from 2005 to 2008 is troubling, these increases appear to be short-term. Recent evidence—including further reductions in birthrates in nearly all states between 2008 and 2010, and decreases in the numbers of abortions for 2009 reported by the states to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 5 —indicates that pregnancy rates have also continued to decline.


h/t Ars Technica

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