Does an apparent correlation between MTV shows and teen birth rates signify anything?

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133952397Teenage American girls are more likely to get pregnant than teens living in any other developed country. Although teenage birth rates in the US have been declining since 1991 they have fallen by 52 percent American teens are still 10 times as likely to have babies as Swiss girls and twice as likely as Canadian girls.

Nicholas Kristof, in his column published in the New York Times, highlights the results of a study conducted by Melissa Kearney, an associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland, and Phillip B. Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College. They found that in those regions where viewership of the MTV shows 16 and Pregnant and the Teen Mom franchise were higher, teenage birth rates dropped more than in comparison areas without those shows. They claimed that the shows resulted in an almost six percent decline in teenage births. Furthermore, abortion rates also fell, suggesting that the decline is a result of the use of contraception.

Stephen K. Friedman, the president of MTV says, It s another reminder that great storytelling can be a powerful catalyst for change.

ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan comments: The decline in birth rates in the United States is definitely very encouraging. However, what Kristof failed to point out in his column is that it is not possible from the study design to draw conclusions about cause and effect. Furthermore, it is still necessary to continue efforts to educate teenage girls about safe sex practices including the availability of long-acting reversible contraception methods (hormonal injections and IUDs), the availability of the morning-after pill plan B, and the importance of using barrier contraception to protect against STDs. On the other hand, this study may suggest that we need to re-evaluate the way we approach this educational outreach.