"16 and Pregnant" may have successfully delivered its message about teen pregnancy, if it is the show's real goal. A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that teen birth rate declined 5.7 percent in the 18 months following the show's debut in 2009.
The study conducted by Melissa S. Kearney, the director of the Hamilton Project, and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College compared birth records with Nielsen television ratings since the series launched on MTV. It found that teen birth rates declined faster in areas where youth were watching more MTV.
While the ratings also cover other shows besides "16 & Pregnant" and its spin-offs, the "Teen Mom" franchise, the study pointed out a bump in web searches and tweets about birth control and abortion during the episodes' airings. This could indicate an increased awareness about the topics.
Levine also noted that the birth declines were due to fewer pregnancies, not more abortions, because teen abortion rates have been falling nationwide.
The Parents Television Council (PTC), which is among those who have critized the show, has commented on the study's findings. Melissa Henson said the study "is very interesting, and if it's true, if this show did contribute to declining birth rates, that's not a bad thing. But I'm a bit skeptical." She insisted that the show and other reality programs on MTV emphasized "staged drama," instead of "responsible teen sex."