We don't often associate reality television with any type of positive effect on our society. But MTV's shows about teen pregnancy seem to be creating more cautious and thoughtful teenagers in regards to unplanned pregnancy.
According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of teen birth continues to drop each year since 2008.
The decline in births could be caused by various factors including dropping fertility rates, access and effectiveness of contraceptives, and the economy.
The decline in teenage pregnancy from 1990 to 2008 is linked to the better accessibility to contraceptives. However, MTV's "16 and Pregnant" could be the reason why more teens are being smart about sex.
Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, studies teen birth rates and sees a connection between the decline and the MTV reality show.
MTV's "16 and Pregnant," which aired for the first time in 2009, follows pregnant teen moms and the hardships they face becoming mothers. Some teens on the show chose for adoption, while others take care of their newborn, sometimes without the support of the baby's father. "Teen Mom": and other spinoffs continue to follow the young mother's journeys.
"They just show young women's lives being really hard as young mothers," Kearney says.
Kearney and researchers at Philip Levine of Wellesley College found that the first episode of "16 and Pregnant" caused mass Google searches and tweets about birth control or abortion. The research suggests the show is the cause of one-third of the percent of drops in teen births between 2009 and half of 2010.
As a result, the researchers believe that the show influenced the decline in teen pregnancy more than public policy such as sex education, access to abortion, welfare and Medicaid coverage for contraception. They have "a very, very small role in affecting aggregate rates" or unmarried birth, she says.
The data from the CDC shows that unmarried births since 2007 have overall declined in women 35 and younger. In 2008, there were 1.7 million babies born to unwed women in the U.S. The most dramatic decline was among unmarried black and Hispanic women.
In addition to the effect of reality shows, Kearney says women since the 1990s have had better access to education and higher-paying jobs, thus putting off having babies until they have a career.
Now if only "Jersey Shore" had some positive effect on our youth.