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Is '16 And Pregnant' An Effective Form Of Birth Control?

Posted by on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:00 PM
  • 37 Replies

Is '16 And Pregnant' An Effective Form Of Birth Control?

Episode 1 of 16 and Pregnant tells the story of Maci, a "classic overachiever" at her Chattanooga, Tenn., high school. A new study attributes a portion of the decline in the U.S. teen birthrate to the MTV show.

MTV

The U.S. teen birthrate — one of the highest in the developed world — has been dropping in recent years. There are a number of reasons for the decrease, and a new study attributes a portion of the decline to an unlikely cause: MTV's 16 and Pregnanta show that takes a brutally honest look at what life is like for pregnant teens.

Melissa Kearney, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland and co-author of the study, walks NPR's Audie Cornish through the findings.


Interview Highlights

On the acceleration in the decrease in teen birthrates around 2008

A lot of people noticed that the decline accelerated and, as you said, it started dropping very rapidly. My colleague and I would read in the newspaper various theories as to why, and everybody promoting their favorite policy being expanded — sex education or expanded abstinence programs — and based on our previous research we knew that those types of targeted policies could not be the explanation.

Then we came across a quote by [CEO] Sarah Brown at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and she speculated that this show was having an effect. So we wondered if that could be true, and we set out to look at the data and see, in fact, if it was.

On the data sets they explored to answer this question

We started by, of course, using the birthrate data in the U.S. So we're able to figure out exactly how many teens gave birth in various media markets. And then we bought data from Nielsen — ratings data — to figure out how many teenagers were watching MTV across the country. And then also something a bit novel for economists: We got all historical data on Google searches as well as the universe of Twitter data.

On what they were looking for in the Google and Twitter data

In the Google data we were really looking for ... people searching for information about how to get birth control around the time the shows were viewed — and there are really striking spikes in the data. [On the] day that an episode airs and the next day we see large spikes in the rate at which people are searching for how to get birth control and we see higher volumes of searches in places where more teens are watching MTV.

The Twitter data was astounding. In the Twitter data we can actually see what teens are tweeting, and there are literally thousands of tweets that say things like: "Watching 16 and Pregnant reminds me to take my birth control." [And] "16 and Pregnant is the best form of birth control." So getting that insight into what teenagers were thinking about while and right after they watched the show was really informative.

On what they found

The show had a sizable impact. Our estimates from the data suggest that when the show came on, teen birthrates as a result of this show fell by 5.7 percentage points over this 18-month period. To put that in perspective, that is a third of the overall decline in teen birthrates over that time. So the full scope of what we find is that [of] this decline in this period, half is due to the recession, a third is due to 16 And Pregnant, and the remainder is due to an ongoing downward trend in teen childbearing rates.

On this study only looking at births, not pregnancy — could an increase in abortions also be at play?

The data on abortion is not yet available. Data comes out with a long lag. So we're not able to separate out the effect on pregnancy and abortion. So we see the decrease coming from births. We think it's largely driven by a reduction in teen pregnancy, because the overall trend is pregnancies are down and there has not been an increase in abortions. But the sort of detailed data that allows us to look at that across places is not yet available.

On what we should take away from this study

The biggest take-away from this study is that what teenagers are watching can make a really big difference in what they think, and ultimately how they behave and really important life decisions. Interestingly, usually we talk about the media as a negative effect on behavior — an increase in violence, an increase in sex — but this show suggests that context really matters, and the specific content of what's portrayed really matters. So in this case, the media images seem to be really having a positive social effect to the extent that we think that a reduction in teen births is a good thing.

On whether she watched the show before the study

We started watching this show after we launched our research project ... when we read the conflicting claims in the paper: ... This glamorized teen childbearing; this had a depressive effect on teen childbearing. Having never watched the show, we didn't know which way it would cut. Like everyone else I see the tabloids at the grocery store that has some of these girls on the cover and in my mind it could have gone either way. Once we started watching the show, my co-author and I ... we thought: Gosh, this is actually really depressing. Once we started watching it, what we were seeing in the data made more sense.

National Woman's Party


by on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:00 PM
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Replies (1-10):
NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:10 PM

Very interesting...

We started by, of course, using the birthrate data in the U.S. So we're able to figure out exactly how many teens gave birth in various media markets. And then we bought data from Nielsen — ratings data — to figure out how many teenagers were watching MTV across the country. And then also something a bit novel for economists: We got all historical data on Google searches as well as the universe of Twitter data.

On what they were looking for in the Google and Twitter data

In the Google data we were really looking for ... people searching for information about how to get birth control around the time the shows were viewed — and there are really striking spikes in the data. [On the] day that an episode airs and the next day we see large spikes in the rate at which people are searching for how to get birth control and we see higher volumes of searches in places where more teens are watching MTV.

The Twitter data was astounding. In the Twitter data we can actually see what teens are tweeting, and there are literally thousands of tweets that say things like: "Watching 16 and Pregnant reminds me to take my birth control." [And] "16 and Pregnant is the best form of birth control." So getting that insight into what teenagers were thinking about while and right after they watched the show was really informative.

On what they found

The show had a sizable impact. Our estimates from the data suggest that when the show came on, teen birthrates as a result of this show fell by 5.7 percentage points over this 18-month period. To put that in perspective, that is a third of the overall decline in teen birthrates over that time. So the full scope of what we find is that [of] this decline in this period, half is due to the recession, a third is due to 16 And Pregnant, and the remainder is due to an ongoing downward trend in teen childbearing rates.

National Woman's Party


AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:10 PM
That's a big drop
Momniscient
by Ruby Member on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:13 PM
Super interesting.
Never did watch the show as I Understand teen motherhood isn't glamorous and I'm not a reality tv person.
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LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Jan. 13, 2014 at 11:21 PM

I think for some people, the prospect of fame might tip the balance of their next choice... for others, the reality of kids in real life might be far less 'cute and fun' than it might otherwise sound...

I like that the show at least opened up the discussion to a broader audience...

jllcali
by Jane on Jan. 14, 2014 at 12:48 AM
6 moms liked this
They should do a show called "A Room Filled With Hyperactive 6 Year Olds". Then the teen pregnancy rates will really drop.
AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Jan. 14, 2014 at 6:25 AM
1 mom liked this
I didn't need anything half as depressing as watching these reality shows.
Other than the horror of watching a few really smart girls drop out of advanced classes because they didn't need college anymore, those teen pregnancy after school specials shows in the eighties scared me out of having kids until I was literally thirty seven and it was still unplanned.
I was like "Nope, not me, getting the righteous fuck out of this town" and my stock answer to why I didn't have kids was that I was too young to have kids right up until I got pregnant.
sweet-a-kins
by Emerald Member on Jan. 14, 2014 at 6:30 AM
2 moms liked this
I watch the show and I think it's great at showing teens all that you have to sacrifice ....and that most of the boys leave.

Quoting Momniscient: Super interesting.

Never did watch the show as I Understand teen motherhood isn't glamorous and I'm not a reality tv person.
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KatLee42513
by on Jan. 14, 2014 at 6:30 AM
I see both sides of the spectrum. At 15/16 my parents certainly didn't sit me down to talk about birth control or sex and I didn't even have my first trip to the gyno until last year (26). So if I were to turn the tv on at 15/16 I'd probably learn more then I actually knew. I was an army brat and can honestly say after 7 different schools - not one had sex ed

On the other end I don't consider this reality. These woman receive 40-80,000 per season, are given new cars, get their nails done and have mommy and daddy support them. I highly doubt this is even close to reality ...I find them obnoxious, spoiled and their stupidity is uncanning
SuchAKillJoy
by Member on Jan. 14, 2014 at 7:01 AM

I was honestly one of those teens that just sort of picked up the info on BC. I knew about sex I knew about kids. Im the oldest of four so it was kind of hard not to. And I do mean oldest. Eight years between me and my first sibling. 

However I do plan to talk about it with my own. To get her BC and make sure she has all the facts.

On one hand these shows can be good. On the other they get paid to be on the show. Its sort of a give and take. 

MethuenMom
by on Jan. 14, 2014 at 8:13 AM
1 mom liked this

 I watched a few episodes of this and if I was teenager, I'd make sure I wouldn't get pregnant.

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