We investigate whether the show [16 and Pregnant] influenced teens’ interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it ultimately altered teen childbearing outcomes. …We find that 16 and Pregnant led to more searches and tweets regarding birth control and abortion, and ultimately led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its introduction. This accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period.
One third?? Wow.
I'm hoping for a 20% increase in the uptake of contraceptives in my research district in Tanzania, which may not even translate into a reduction in teen births at all. And my intervention includes real people visiting homes, an attempt at solidifying the impact of the intervention with a very clear and personal message. 16 and Pregnant, on the other hand was a) optional b) could be turned off at any point c) is interrupted with commercials and d) may have included unclear and varying messages that affect fertility behavior in different directions.
The effect of TV shows on fertility behavior is not new, however, Brazil's soap operas had the effect of reducing fertility by showing happy families than are much smaller than the realistic size in Brazil at the time. How does one show send a positive message about smaller families and one show send a negative message about teen pregnancy? Artistic choice, I suppose, and probably something economists won't ever know.