Do television programs depicting teen pregnancy serve as cautionary tales for the 21st century? According to a new economic study, shows like MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and its spin-off, “Teen Mom” may have prevented more than 20,000 births to teenage mothers in 2010 alone. The National Bureau of Economic Research’s new study, which examines both Nielsen television ratings and birth records, asserts the popular programs are responsible for reducing the teen birthrate by nearly six percent.
In 2011, PRRI’s own Millennials, Religion and Abortion Survey found that roughly 7-in-10 (71 percent) of Millennials between the ages of 18 and 29 reported having seen a movie or television show about teenage pregnancy, compared to approximately 3-in-10 (31 percent) of American seniors (ages 65 and older). Americans who reported seeing the reality shows “16 and Pregnant” or “Teen Mom” were significantly more likely than the general population to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (65 percent vs. 56 percent) and to say that having an abortion is morally acceptable (48 percent vs. 40 percent). They’re also nearly twice as likely as those who haven’t seen the shows to say that at least some health care professionals in their area should provide legal abortions (65 percent vs. 34 percent, respectively).
So, while critics condemn reality television for glorifying teen pregnancy, these programs seem to have the opposite affect on young viewers.