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

My alma mater published a study about the television shows I worke on!

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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