The New York Times announced today that a National Bureau of Economic Research study of TV ratings and birth rates “suggests that the show and its spinoffs may have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010.”
Interestingly, the data points to MTV as a network as causing our nation’s youths to stop breeding, rather than one specific show.
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.
Whether teens are just using more protection, or just have less sex because Awkward is on, is still unknown.
But wait! A second study, about to be published from Mass Communication and Society, says that shows like Teen Mom does reinforce myths about economic stability and support from male partners. And “while it would be inappropriate to suggest that viewing these programs is the cause of teen pregnancy,” the study’s authors note that “one might consider it a contributing factor.”
Both papers are pretty far from conclusive: The former because of other factors that may have influenced the decline in birth rates; the latter because it’s not even talking about those birth rates, just the perception of teen pregnancy caused by these shows. (The MCS study also puts a lot of the onus on Teen Mom for being a worse show than 16 and Pregnant, as it did more to make their subjects into F-list celebrities.)
That these shows (in all their various incarnations) remain the most popular programs on MTV may be the most disturbing part of either study. Will no one think of Girl Code??