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, Revised in August 2015
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Economics, Labor Studies

This paper explores the impact of the introduction of the widely viewed MTV show 16 and Pregnant on teen childbearing. The reality TV show follows the lives of pregnant teenagers during the final months of their pregnancy and early months of motherhood. We match Vital Statistics birth data to Nielson television ratings data to investigate whether exposure to the show had an impact on teen childbearing rates. We implement an instrumental variables (IV) strategy using local area MTV ratings data from a pre-period to predict local area 16 and Pregnant ratings. We also introduce event study methods, utilizing the specific timing of the show’s introduction to identify a causal effect. The results of this analysis imply that the introduction of this MTV show led to a 4.3 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its initial airing. This accounts for 24 percent of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period. We supplement these findings with an examination of data from Google Trends and Twitter, which suggest that this show led to increased interest in contraceptive use and abortion, as captured by internet search and tweeting behavior.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19795

Published: Melissa S. Kearney & Phillip B. Levine, 2015. "Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(12), pages 3597-3632, December. citation courtesy of

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