Politics & Policy

MTV and Teen Pregnancy

Teen Mom 2 (MTV)
A new study suggests the sordid programs might be steering teenagers away from parenthood.

What music videos were to the MTV of yore, programs about single teenage mothers are to the MTV of today — a staple. The network’s franchise of reality shows about teenagers coping with out-of-wedlock-births, beginning with 16 and Pregnant and including the spinoffs Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, has been a runaway success.

It has given us such teen moms as Jenelle Evans, who alleged that her drug-abusing boyfriend beat her up, causing her to have a miscarriage. And Amber Portwood, who got out of jail on parole last year after serving time for drug convictions — the latest in a string of troubles encompassing a suicide attempt and battery charges for allegedly beating up her boyfriend. And, of course, Farrah Abraham.

#ad#If you don’t know who Abraham is, you obviously haven’t been keeping up with Us Weekly. She didn’t tell her ex-boyfriend that he was the father before he was killed in a car accident. Her mother was charged with assault for hitting her. But never mind. Rocketed to D-list celebrity by her appearances on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, she got two breast augmentations, performed in a sex video, and has now graduated to appearing on the VH1 show Couples Therapy. In other words, she is living the American Dream of pointless notoriety.

For understandable reasons, the MTV franchise has been lambasted by cultural conservatives for glamorizing the lives of young women who have made desperately poor choices. But along come a couple of economists with a new paper on the social effects of the MTV shows to tell us that that gets it all wrong: The programs actually led, by their calculations, to a nearly 6 percent reduction in teen births between June 2009 and the end of 2010.

Their analysis of all the episodes of 16 and Pregnant finds 47 pregnancies, and only four marriages prior to birth. Almost all the fathers stay involved throughout the pregnancy, but by the end of the episodes, half the relationships are very strained or over. About a quarter of the births are by C-section, and the young mothers experience “extensive sleep deprivation.” This is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or The Bachelorette.

“Overall,” write the authors of the study, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College, “the realities of the lives of teen mothers are presented in ways that may have been unknown or difficult to imagine for other teens viewing the show.” According to their findings, getting a dose of the reality of teen child rearing — which means limited educational prospects and a high likelihood of poverty — changes the behavior of teens exposed to the shows.

There are two things to say about this result. One is that it vindicates the commonsensical belief that pop culture has an impact on how we live. The entertainment industry celebrates itself as important and brave, but when anyone suggests that its stupid and degrading output might influence how anyone thinks or behaves, it retreats to the “it’s just a TV show [or movie]” defense.

The other is that the trend toward ever-increasing out-of-wedlock child rearing needn’t be accepted as inevitable. If MTV has inadvertently stumbled on a highly credible way to make the case to teens that the life of a single teen parent is to be avoided, then surely there are other effective ways to spread the word about the struggles inherent to out-of-wedlock child rearing more generally. (Teens under 18 account for less than 8 percent of all out-of-wedlock births.)

As for MTV, it may create a mixed message. Another new study found that teenage viewers of the shows had unrealistically rosy views of single motherhood — perhaps because after the travails depicted on 16 and Pregnant, a few high-profile teen moms like Farrah Abraham graduate to the tawdry satisfactions of minor celebrityhood. It’s safe to assume that nothing good comes from MTV, except by accident.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2014 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More
U.S.

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More
Culture

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Culture

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More
Elections

In Defense of Tulsi

Some years ago, a liberal-minded friend of mine complained during lunch that Fox News was “stealing” his elderly parents. “They should be enjoying retirement,” he said, noting that they live in a modest but comfortable style with attentive children and grandchildren to enjoy. “But instead,” he sighed, ... Read More