You guys are never gonna believe this, but apparently a new study is suggesting that the MTV show 16 And Pregnant may have actually reduced teen pregnancy rates. I KNOW.
Ever since the show has been on, a lot of people (Crushable very much included) have felt like it was probably doing more harm than good for teenagers by glamorizing teen pregnancy. Nobody had any real numbers to back them up, but there’d be rumors all the time about a whole class of girls getting pregnant together intentionally or something, to get on the show. And regardless, just the fact that we know these girls’ names now, and some of them haven’t quite triumphed over their struggles yet, was enough to keep me nervous.
But in a research paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (co-authored by Melissa S. Kearney of University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College), studies suggest that 16 And Pregnant has certainly had an effect on teen pregnancy…but shockingly, it’s actually been a positive one, in that it may have prevented thousands of teenagers from becoming young mothers by giving them a basic education about reproductive health:
“We find that 16 and Pregnant 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.”
And in case that 5.7% number doesn’t sound very high to you, bear in mind that The New York Times is estimating that it represents about 20,000 possible births in 2010 alone. Ms. Kearney and Mr. Levine aren’t giving the reality show full credit for this phenomenon, as the teen birth rate has been pretty steadily declining anyway, but they say the inherent education provided in the show has been a definite factor.
“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.”
Ultimately, the fact that the show lets kids connect in such a visceral way to the across-the-board consequences of teen pregnancy makes it a surprisingly great resource. MTV definitely walks a fine line of exploitation, but it seems like the pros still outweigh the cons. Against all odds.
Now if we could just get the girls who keep getting on the show to actually watch it, we might be in even better shape.