MTV and Teen Pregnancy

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."

Emily Oster Answers Your Pregnancy Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for economist Emily Oster, a Freakonomics favorite and author of the new book Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What You Really Need to Know.  Oster's answers are below and address everything from how fertility declines with age to whether pregnant women can still safely indulge in caffeine, fish, and transatlantic travel.  A big thanks to Emily -- and to all of you for your excellent questions.

What You Should and Shouldn’t Do When You're Pregnant: Submit Your Questions for Emily Oster

If you’ve ever been pregnant, or been close to someone who is pregnant, you know how many prohibitions there are.  You can’t smoke or drink.  Shellfish are to be avoided.  In my house, conveniently (for the pregnant woman), scooping the cat litter was absolutely out of the question.  Of course, there are also a large number of things you have to do when you are pregnant or are thinking of getting pregnant, like take folic acid.

Is there any evidence to support all these pregnancy rules?  My good friend and colleague Emily Oster (whose research has been featured in SuperFreakonomics and many times on the blog), has just written the definitive book on the subject, entitled Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What You Really Need to Know.  She has generously agreed to answer blog reader questions, so fire away in the comments section below and, as always, we'll post her answers in good time!

Here's the Table of Contents to get you started:

What Will Be the Consequences of the Latest Prenatal-Testing Technologies?

Here's some big -- and good -- news on the birth-technology front, from Amy Dockser Marcus in the Wall Street Journal:

New, noninvasive blood tests are being developed for expectant mothers to find out if their babies have genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, without the risks of tests available now.

Pregnant women often opt for a prenatal test called amniocentesis that requires a needle to be inserted through the walls of the abdomen and uterus to draw a sample of the fluid surrounding the fetus. The test is uncomfortable and carries a small risk of miscarriage, as does another invasive test for genetic disorders called chorionic villus sampling, or CVS, that samples tissue from the placenta.

Now, scientists say new tests of fetal DNA sampled from a mother's blood can be used to screen for Down syndrome, which occurs in one in 691 live births and causes cognitive disabilities. The new blood tests could be performed as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy—earlier than amniocentesis—and may be available as soon as the end of this year.

Renting Wombs in India

Slate takes a look at India's half-billion-dollar-a-year reproductive-tourism industry. "The primary appeal of India is that it is cheap, hardly regulated, and relatively safe," writes Amana Fontanella-Khan. "Surrogacy can cost up to $100,000 in the United States, while many Indian clinics charge $22,000 or less. Very few questions are asked. Same-sex couples, single parents and even busy women who just don't have time to give birth are welcomed by doctors."

Another Despicable Financial Scandal

| A California-based company took millions of dollars from infertile couples, matched the couples with surrogate mothers, and agreed to use the money to pay the surrogates until their children came to term. Only now the company has vanished, along with the money, and the surrogate mothers are no longer being paid. What will happen […]

The Sperm-Supply Problem

There’s a shortage of sperm in Britain! Apparently, Britain needs donations for about 4,000 women per year; to reach that number, about 500 sperm donors per year are required, while only 300 are currently registered. Things were fine until 2005, when a law was enacted allowing children of sperm donors the right to discover the […]

The Economics of the Amniocentesis

Photo: kaatje85 An amniocentesis (or an “amnio”) is a fairly common procedure among pregnant women that involves the extraction of a small sample of amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus. The main benefit of an amnio is that it can diagnose genetic disorders in a fetus, including Down syndrome. But there is also a real cost, […]

The Numbers on Teen Pregnancy

It is amazing to me that in the several days after it was announced that the second-ever woman was nominated for a major-party vice-president slot, so much of the news has concerned her and her daughter’s reproductive activities. Part of the reason to have a female candidate in the first place is presumably to be […]

Is Teen Pregnancy Cool or Is It Just the Economy?

The teen pregnancy rate is up (4 percent) for the first time since 1991, but nobody is sure exactly why, reports Health News. Some researchers say it’s just a “blip in the data.” Others blame TV shows and young celebrities like Jamie Spears, who told OK! Magazine: Being a mom is the best feeling in […]