Studies Conflict On How Reality Shows Affect Teen Pregnancy

One IU researcher looked at the effect shows like MTV's 16 and Pregnant have on teen pregnancy, but her research conflicts with another like it.

pregnancy test

Photo: flickr (BrownGuacamole)

Researchers disagree on whether reality shows like 16 and Pregnant encourage or discourage teen pregnancy.

MTV’s reality show 16 and Pregnant is shaping young people’s attitudes toward teen pregnancy. That’s according to two separate studies released this year, but the studies are split on whether the show glamorizes teen pregnancy or motivates teens to use birth control.

16 and Pregnant follows teen moms through their pregnancy and early days of motherhood.

Indiana University Telecommunications professor Nicole Martins surveyed 185 high school students in Indiana that watch the show. She says their responses show the program has given them unrealistic ideas about teen pregnancy and motherhood.

“They were also led to believe that teen moms had active social life they routinely went out with their friends–they did normal teen things like go to prom, that they were able to finish high school and go on to college, and that income was not a problem for them, that they were able to find good jobs,” Martins said.

But figures suggest that those perceptions aren’t necessarily being acted on.
Wellesley College Economics Professor Phillip Levine co-authored another study that analyzed web activity while the show was airing. It showed a high number of Google searches and twitter posts indicating a heightened interest in using birth control.

Levine says the national teen pregnancy rate—has also fallen 7.5 percent every year since the TV show began in 2011.

“There are 300 million people in the US. It is hard to imagine that everybody thinks the exact same thing,” Levine said. “The fact that we are observing this decline in teen birth as a result of the show doesn’t mean that there are people that respond in the opposite direction, it’s just on net we see that overall the birth rate fell.”

Levine says teen birth rates have decreased more sharply in television markets where MTV is more popular.

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