Reality TV impacts declining teen birth rate

A new study is crediting the popular MTV reality show “16 and Pregnant” – and the subsequent “Teen Mom” shows – with impacting the declining teen birth rate.

The National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday released a study that estimates the “16 and Pregnant” show led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen birth rates in the 18 months after it debuted in 2009.

“This is sex education for the 21st century. This is a show that very clearly exemplifies what life is going to be like in the aftermath of having a baby at such a young age,” study co-author Phillip Levine told NBC News. “It’s very hard to convey that message in any other way. You could talk about it in a classroom environment and maybe it could have some impact, but this is much more compelling.”

The U.S. teen birth rate has declined dramatically in the last 20 years – long before “Teen Mom.” In 2012, fewer than 30 out of every 1,000 teen girls gave birth, compared to nearly 62 in 1991, according to NBC News.

The decline was rapid between 2008 and 2012. The researchers argue the weak labor market of the Great Recession, coupled with the debut of “16 and Pregnant,” contributed to the drop, according to NBC News.

The researchers looked at Neilsen ratings, Internet searchers and tweets and found the show led teens to search and tweet about birth control and abortion. Those searches spiked when the show was on TV and in places where it was more popular, according to the NBC News story.

“You see very stressful relationships, difficulties with boyfriends, lack of sleep, difficulties completing their education – that clarifies for people exactly what life is going to be like afterwards,” Levine told NBC News. “In that sense, I think it has a perfectly plausible mechanism for affecting women’s life choices.”

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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