How This MTV Show Led to a Major Decline in Teen Pregnancy

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Watching reality TV can be good for you—especially if you’re a teenage girl.

A study released on Thursday by the McKinsey Global Institute determined that the high rate of teenage pregnancy is one of six major factors holding women back in the U.S. One effective tool for lowering that number? Media, according to the report.

McKinsey cites a 2014 study that determined that the MTV show 16 and Pregnant “led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, which may have contributed to a 5.7% reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction, which is one-third of the overall decline in U.S. teen births during that period.”

The reality show, which follows teen mothers in their daily lives, was initially created in 2009 and later spun off into Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, which featured many of the same moms from the original series.

Seeing firsthand the sacrifices that the women in the show make—from things as small as missing the prom to not finishing school—is more powerful than being told not to have unprotected sex by a teacher or parent, says Lauren Dolgen, creator of the show, head of west coast reality programming and EVP of series development for MTV.

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Dolgen says she helped create the show, in part, to educate MTV’s young audience. “I had read an article about teen pregnancy [that cited] this really staggering number of teen pregnancies in the U.S. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is completely affecting our audience, we have to talk about it,'” Dolgen says.

That number is indeed staggering: Approximately 600,000 women between 15 and 19 become pregnant every year, according to McKinsey. That’s more than in any other developed country, and closer to the number of teen pregnancies in African countries like Botswana and Djibouti, notes Kweilin Ellingrud, lead author of the McKinsey report.

Aside from being an emotional and financial burden on the mothers themselves, teen pregnancy comes at a huge cost for the U.S. In 2010, teen births cost the country nearly $10 billion in public assistance, health care, and lost income from the mothers, according to the report.

While McKinsey cites income inequality as the main driving force behind youth pregnancies, Dolgen says the number one issue for the girls in MTV’s shows lack is education.

“Even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation, it’s a conversation we need to have,” she says.

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