Is MTV a Form of Birth Control?


I've got a new article up at The Daily Beast, about a recent study that purports to show that MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom shows caused a significant drop in the teen birth rate. Here are some snippets:

After decades of being slammed by bluenosesbureaucrats, and Bruce Springsteen for sexing up and dumbing down the masses, it turns out that the small screen has accomplished what no amount of promise rings, Twilight movies, or mandatory banana-on-a-condom classes have managed to do: reduce the number of teenage births.

At least that's what the authors of a widely discussed new study say. In "Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing," (available online for the low, low price of $5.00 from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Melissa S. Kearney (University of Maryland) and Phillip B. Levine (Wellesley College) write "The introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth." According to their calculations, the shows are responsible for "a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following [their] introduction."…

The study is far less interesting for the specific claims it makes about teen birth rates than it is as a variation on persistent attitudes toward cultural production and consumption redolent of Frankfurt School anxieties over media's impact on the proletariat. In many ways, "Media Influences on Social Outcomes" is simply the latest echo of the idea that TV, music, movies, novels, and the like don't simply move audiences to laughter, tears, or contemplation but compel them to act in particular ways.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. Is MTV a form of birth control?

    Their shows always kill my wood.

    1. I read that as mood, but wood works too.

  2. I vaguely remember the Freakonomics boys correlating women having access to TV in general with lower fertility, in India I believe. The hypothesis being something to do with watching a lot of soaps with glamorous women with few on no children.

  3. …mandatory banana-on-a-condom classes…

    Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Fer chrissakes, if that’s the way they’re teaching the classes it’s no wonder the kids are still managing to get knocked up.

  4. Their blockbuster ratings year appears to be 2010 with all of 5% to 8% of Americans with televisions watching the show. I looked through Nick’s article, and a NYT article without finding any updates to that.

    So, from the study one may conclude that the creators of this show have an uncanny ability to target their message exactly to every single person who needed to change her mind about getting pregnant before statutory adulthood.

    1. To be fair, it’s quite possible that teens thinking of becoming moms would be drawn to TV shows about teen moms.

      1. Yes, every last one of them.

        1. All it needs to be is enough of them to swing the statistics.

  5. if a couple of reality shows with teen mothers took the luster off the romantic fantasy of babies raising babies, that’s a net plus. The self-congratulations is a bit much but hard to see where lower teen pregnancy rates are a bad thing.

  6. Farrah Abraham seems to have turned out well.

  7. Are they actually claiming causation?

    1. Is the distinction even still made in academia?

      1. Yes, the distinction is made whenever an idea challenges their collectivist dogma.

        1. did someone mention climate change? Or income inequality?

      2. I’m no expert in designing studies, but is it even possible to set up an experiment that would prove causation wrt to this? How could you control extraneous variables in a population large enough to show cause?

        1. Particularly in the social sciences, even in well controlled studies there are virtually always lurking variables, and causation or the implication of causation is thrown around extremely recklessly, especially when a study hits the popular press.

          Short of confining a group of teens to a room with only MTV teen mom shows as information or entertainment and the introducing a suitable breeding partner could you possibly have a good causal connection. (IMO, YMMV)

          1. Short of confining a group of teens to a room with only MTV teen mom shows as information or entertainment and the introducing a suitable breeding partner could you possibly have a good causal connection. (IMO, YMMV)

            I’d watch that.

        2. I’m no expert in designing studies

          And there you go, you are no expert so listen to your betters who know better to tell you how to think. Don’t forget to support their pet projects with your money too!

    2. It must be causation, since the percentage drop is pretty darn close to the total audience of the show!

  8. “Despite easy access to ubiquitous and free online porn, only around 43 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys engage in sex before graduating high school. In 1988, the corresponding percentages were 51 percent and 60 percent. As Kearney and Levine themselves note, the teen birth rate?around 29 girls per 1,000 between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth?is about half of what it was two decades ago. The decline is even more pronounced if you start the trend line four or more decades back.)”

    So teen sex has gone down since 1988, a time when the media had nothing but nonstop broadcasts of zoning board meetings. So media has no influence on youth sexual activity.

    And teen birthrates have gone down in the past four decades?

    Numero uno, this tells us nothing about the enormous rise in the rate of *illegitimate* births. I would bet that when the teen birthrate was higher, a lot more of these births were to married teenagers aged 18 and 19. The illegitimacy rate going up is a better measure of social dysfunction.

    Numero two-o, if live births have gone down since 1973, then I wonder if there was any event in 1973 which contributed to that outcome?

    1. The abortion rate is also at the lowest level it’s been virtually since legalization. I guess the takeaway is that the smaller number of teen moms today vs 20 years ago are keeping their illegitimate bastard babies. Good news or bad news?

      1. Single motherhood does tend to correlate with worse social outcomes than adoption.

        1. That still doesn’t really answer the question though. You would obviously prefer if fewer women had abortions. They are having fewer abortions. If this results in them raising the child they failed to abort as a single parent, good or bad?

          1. Fewer abortions than the year abortions became legal, not fewer than when it was banned.

            1. Still doesn’t answer the question. Roe v. Wade isn’t getting overturned without a constitutional amendment, so abortion rates prior to Roe v. Wade aren’t a good basis for comparison. It’s not even particularly relevant – what I’m asking actually works even better in an environment where there are no abortions. So say we’re in an alternate universe, you’ve been made beneficent dictator for life, and abortion has just been outlawed entirely. We’ll also assume perfect compliance. In that case no teen mom is going to be aborting her baby. But let’s say the exact same percentage still end up as unwed mothers. Good or bad?

              In case you’re confused, I’m trying to square your belief that women shouldn’t abort their children with your belief that women also shouldn’t raise their children once they’re born unless they are married. Are you in favor of confiscating children from single mothers? Mandatory marriage of pregnant teens to the father?

  9. I prefer MTV’s earlier, funnier shows.

    1. They really should bring bag Celebrity Death Match.

      1. *back. Gah.

  10. After decades of being slammed by bluenoses, bureaucrats, and Bruce Springsteen

    Lol! Thanks for reminding me that you cheated on your wife, you warbling hack.

    1. What?

      1. Springsteen cheated on his first wife, Julianne Phillips, with his backup singer and second wife Patti Scialfa.

        1. As I recall, the rumor at the time was that Phillip’s unwillingness to have children was a major reason for Springsteen’s affair and their breakup. I just looked Phillips up and don’t find anything about her ever having kids.

  11. Culture isn’t something that happens to us or programs us like robots. It’s something that emerges from the interplay between creators and audiences.

    Great sentence, but, Nick, you’re casting pearls before swine over at the Beast. Read the comments and weep. I hope they’re paying you a lot.

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