Do Reality Shows Lead to Decline in Birth Rates?

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Do reality shows on teen pregnancy actually work?

While our readers voted otherwise, the popular MTV reality shows Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant have had a “sizable impact” on the declining teen birth rate, according to a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study found that watching the shows led to a 5.7 per cent decrease in teen births, which the study’s authors say accounts for one-third of the overall decline in U.S. teen births since the shows were introduced in 2009.

MORE: Reality Shows on Teen Pregnancy: Glorifying or Educational?

“This is sex education for the 21st century. This is a show that very clearly exemplifies what life is going to be like in the aftermath of having a baby at such a young age,” says Phillip Levine, professor of economics at Wellesley College and co-author of the study.

“It’s very hard to convey that message in any other way,” Levine adds. “You could talk about it in a classroom environment and maybe it could have some impact, but this is much more compelling.”

The U.S. teen birth rate declined when Teen Mom debuted in 2009, and the authors say the 16 and Pregnant spin-off lowered the rate even further. In 2012, fewer than 30 out of 1,000 teen U.S. girls gave birth, compared to almost 62 in 1991. The authors argue that the weak labor market combined with the debut of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant contributed to the drop in teenage childbearing.

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The authors noted “thousands” of tweets, such as, “16 and Pregnant is the best form of birth control” and “16 and Pregnant reminded me to take my birth control.”

Levine argues: “All very clearly indicating that the show is a mechanism that leaves people not to want to have a baby at a young age.”

But another U.S. study from Mass Communication and Society found that reality shows on young moms lead youth to develop positive images of teen pregnancy, arguing that Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant simply glamorize pregnant teenagers.

Researchers for that study spoke with 185 male and female high school students in Indiana, and found that most tended to believe that “teen moms have a good quality of life, that they have lots of time for themselves, and that the fathers of the babies are involved in the mom’s and baby’s lives.”

What do you think? Are reality shows on teen pregnancy glorifying or educational?

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