NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing

Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine

NBER Working Paper No. 19795
Issued in January 2014
NBER Program(s):   CH   HE   LS

This paper explores how specific media images affect adolescent attitudes and outcomes. The specific context examined is the widely viewed MTV franchise, 16 and Pregnant, a series of reality TV shows including the Teen Mom sequels, which follow the lives of pregnant teenagers during the end of their pregnancy and early days of motherhood. We investigate whether the show influenced teens’ interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it ultimately altered teen childbearing outcomes. We use data from Google Trends and Twitter to document changes in searches and tweets resulting from the show, Nielsen ratings data to capture geographic variation in viewership, and Vital Statistics birth data to measure changes in teen birth rates. 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. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.

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