If you thought MTV's 16 and Pregnant and all its related spinoffs glorified teen pregnancy, here's a surprise for you: The reality shows likely reduced teen births by almost 6%, preventing more than 20,000 of them in 2010 alone, according to a new study. The National Bureau of Economic Research compared Nielsen television ratings to birth records, and found that in areas where teens watched more MTV in the period after 16 and Pregnant debuted, the teen pregnancy rate declined more quickly than in other areas, the New York Times reports.
The study accounted for the fact that those who watched the show might have been at higher risk of a teen pregnancy. "The assumption we’re making is that there’s no reason to think that places where more people are watching more MTV in June 2009, would start seeing an excess rate of decline in the teen birthrate, but for the change in what they were watching," says a researcher. Other researchers who reviewed the paper say the results seem sound. Another interesting finding: Whenever 16 and Pregnant was being aired, Internet searches and social media postings related to contraception went up significantly (UPI reports that searches on abortion also spiked). Teen viewers explain that the shows illustrate how hard it is to be a young parent.