Does Reality TV Induce Real Effects? On the Questionable Association Between 16 and PREGNANT and Teenage Childbearing

A PSC Brown Bag Seminar

David Jaeger (City University of New York, Economics)

Monday, 10/10/2016, 12:00 pm.   ARCHIVED EVENT

Location: 6050 ISR - Thompson

We reassess recent and widely reported evidence that the MTV program 16 and Pregnant played a major role in reducing teen birth rates in the U.S. since it began broadcasting in 2009 (Kearney and Levine, American Economic Review 2015, henceforth KL). We find KL's identification strategy to be problematic. We demonstrate that the robust explanatory power of their instrument, MTV viewership prior to 16 and Pregnant, arises from the artificial way the instrument is constructed and illustrate that similar results can be obtained with other instruments of dubious exogeneity. Through a series of placebo and other tests, we show that the exclusion restriction of their instrumental variables approach is not valid and find that the assumption of common trends in birth rates between low and high MTV-watching areas is not met. KL employ weighting in all of their regressions, but when we re-estimate their models without using weights, we find that the estimates become implausibly large. We also reassess KL's evidence from social media and show that it is fragile and highly sensitive to the choice of included periods and to the use of weights. We conclude that the KL's results are uninformative about the effect of 16 and Pregnant on teen birth rates.


David Jaeger is Professor of Economics at the City University of New York Graduate Center, a Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Cologne, and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan in 1995 and has held permanent and visiting positions at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hunter College, Princeton University, The College of William and Mary, and Bonn University. His research interests are in applied microeconomics, particularly immigration, health, education, and most recently, empirical medieval history.

PSC Brown Bag seminars highlight recent research in population studies and serve as a focal point for building our research community.

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