Study shows ’16 and Pregnant’ and ‘Teen Mom’ may be helping to reduce teen pregnancy

Since it premiered in 2009, MTV’s 16 and Pregnant has been both lauded as the ultimate form of adolescent birth control and derided as another entry into the “me me me!” reality show age we find ourselves in. But, according to a new study, it turns out the show may be closer to the former.

According to a study published in the National Bureua of Economic Research, areas in which 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are popular show lower birth rates among teens than in those areas where it’s a flop. Researchers compared Nielsen ratings to teen pregnancy rates to come to their conclusion, hoping to put an end to the “these shows glamorize teen pregnancy” argument. 

What the found was surprising. According to researchers, since 16 and Pregnant’s premiere in 2009, teen birthrates have fallen nearly 6 points. So what exactly is causing the change? As the study authors put it:

"[I]n part by educating teenagers about the difficulty of having a child, in part by stressing the consequences of unprotected sex and in part by fostering a conversation about contraceptives and pregnancy"

So, essentially, by broadcasting the consequences of teen pregnancy, MTV may have gone and lowered the teen birthrate itself. In terms of hard numbers, that’s some 20,000 births to teen parents prevented in 2010 alone, according to the study. 

However, as Laura Stepp at HuffPo notes, the study measure teen births, not teen pregnancies overall. So, in that sense, we’re only looking at completed births rather than pregnancy terms, meaning that the drop in teen births could be attributed to factors like increased access to contraception methods and the like. 

But, hey, our sex ed could use a little sprucing up, too. Or, rather, it did until MTV got a hold of it.