Economists Melissa S. Kearney, who has appeared on this blog and our podcast before, and Phillip B. Levine have a new NBER paper (abstract; PDF) that looks at the influence of MTV’s reality-TV show 16 and Pregnant on teen pregnancy. Levine explained the study’s assumption to The New York Times:
Ms. Kearney and Mr. Levine examined birth records and Nielsen television ratings, finding that the rate of teenage pregnancy declined faster in areas where teenagers were watching more MTV programming — not only the “16 and Pregnant” series — than in areas where they did not. The study focuses on the period after “16 and Pregnant” was introduced in 2009 and accounts for the fact that teenagers who tuned in to the show might have been at higher risk of having a child to begin with.
“The assumption we’re making is that there’s no reason to think that places where more people are watching more MTV in June 2009, would start seeing an excess rate of decline in the teen birthrate, but for the change in what they were watching,” Mr. Levine said.
The authors found that the show “led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.” According to the CDC, teen birth hit a record low in 2010 (the year of the study), and continues to drop. The teen birth rate in the U.S. decreased 25 percent between 2007 and 2011, and the preliminary data for 2012 shows that teen births are at a record low.