In the struggle to break cycles of poverty, experts have been searching for decades for ways to lower America’s astronomical birthrate among teenagers. We’ve tried virginity pledges, condoms and sex education. And, finally, we have a winner, a tool that has been remarkably effective in cutting teenage births.
It’s “16 and Pregnant,” a reality show on MTV that has been a huge hit, spawning spinoffs like the “Teen Mom” franchise. These shows remind youthful viewers that babies cry and vomit, scream in the middle of the night and poop with abandon.
Tweets containing the words “birth control” increased by 23 percent on the day after each new episode of “16 and Pregnant,” according to an analysis by Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine of Wellesley College. Those tweets, in turn, correlate to increased Google searches along the lines of “how get birth control pills.”
Kearney and Levine find that regions with a higher audience for “16 and Pregnant” and the “Teen Mom” franchise had more of a drop in teenage births. Over all, their statistical analysis concludes that the shows reduced teenage births by 5.7 percent, or 20,000 fewer teenage births each year. That’s one birth averted every half-hour.
Because abortion rates fell at the same time, the reduced birthrate appears to be the result principally of more use of contraception. It’s also a reminder of the paramount need for clinics that offer free, long-acting contraception: When a teenage girl searches the web for birth control, let’s make sure she finds solutions.
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