Are Teen Reality Shows Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates?

Teenage girl holding baby

While it might seem logical that the popularity of teen reality shows are causing a surge in teen pregnancies, the opposite may actually be true. Teen reality shows such as "Teen Mom" and "16 and Pregnant" document the harsh realities and struggles facing young mothers. A surprising new study conducted by Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College and Melissa Schettini Kearney of the University of Maryland demonstrated that these reality shows actually contribute to a decrease in the U.S. teen childbearing rate.

Study Overview

It's actually pretty easy to see how reality shows can inversely influence a teenager's opinion to avoid getting pregnant. The shows ("16 and Pregnant," "Teen Mom," "Teen Mom 2," and "Teen Mom 3") depict teen girls bickering with their boyfriends, gaining weight, and being left out of party circles.

Data Evaluation

To evaluate the actual impact of these reality shows, the researchers looked at the data from the Nielson ratings, Twitter, Google, and national Vital Statistics. It turned out that immediately after the episodes aired, Internet searches and tweets about abortion and birth control increased.

After the calculations were complete, it was determined that there was a 5.7 percent decline in teen birth rates, or a one-third decrease since June 2009 through December 2010. The empirical study also demonstrated that the downward trend in teen pregnancies was attributed to a reduction in pregnancy, rather than an increase in the incidence of abortion.

Different Interpretations

Massachusetts Study

The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy explains that the claims made by the study trivialized complex teen pregnancy issues. It also went on to say that the study trivialized the organizations that help provide education, resources, and opportunities to help teenagers make good choices. While this particular organization may have viewed the study as flawed, others disagreed.

Northwestern Researcher Interpretation

Northwestern University associated professor Diane Schanzenbach told the Los Angeles Times, "Overall I think the study is really rigorously done." She went on to say, "And I think it's going to make an impact in the field."

Teen Pregnancy Trends

While critics of teen reality shows might suggest that the shows promote and glamorize teen pregnancy, supporters of the shows might claim that the shows discourage teen pregnancy. In actuality, both groups may be right depending upon the demographic being evaluated. While the latest study by Levine and Schettini Kearney suggests an overall declining trend in teen pregnancy, there may be an uptick in the trend of teen pregnancy in certain groups, such as teenage girls with mental illness.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Women's College Hospital, girls with mental illness are three times more likely to become teenage parents than those who don't have major mental illnesses. The reason behind this upward trend may be because pregnancy prevention programs have not historically focused on mental health issues.

Future Concerns

Although the declining trends in teen pregnancy as a result of reality shows is promising, current teen pregnancy rates are still very concerning. Teen mothers may be faced with greater emotional, financial, social and education burdens than those who are not pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 50 percent of teenage mothers get their high school diplomas by the age of 22.

This is in comparison to approximately 90 percent of women who haven't given birth during their adolescent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made teen pregnancy one of their top six priorities, so with the help of teen pregnancy reality shows, this priority may have a good chance of becoming a "winnable battle."

Are Teen Reality Shows Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates?