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A Cautionary Tale of Evaluating Identifying Assumptions: Did Reality TV Really Cause a Decline in Teenage Childbearing?

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  • David A. Jaeger
  • Theodore J. Joyce
  • Robert Kaestner

Abstract

Evaluating policy changes that occur everywhere at the same time is difficult because of the lack of a clear counterfactual. Hoping to address this problem, researchers often proxy for differential exposure using some observed characteristic in the pretreatment period. As a cautionary tale of how difficult identification is in such settings, we re-examine the results of an influential paper by Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, who found that the MTV program 16 and Pregnant had a substantial impact on teen birth rates. In what amounts to a difference-in-differences approach, they use the pretreatment levels of MTV viewership across media markets as an instrument. We show that controlling for differential time trends in birth rates by a market's pretreatment racial/ethnic composition or unemployment rate causes Kearney and Levine's results to disappear, invalidating the parallel trends assumption necessary for a causal interpretation. Extending the pretreatment period and estimating placebo tests, we find evidence of an “effect” long before 16 and Pregnant started broadcasting. Our results highlight the difficulty of drawing causal inferences from national point-in-time policy changes.

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  • David A. Jaeger & Theodore J. Joyce & Robert Kaestner, 2020. "A Cautionary Tale of Evaluating Identifying Assumptions: Did Reality TV Really Cause a Decline in Teenage Childbearing?," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(2), pages 317-326, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jnlbes:v:38:y:2020:i:2:p:317-326
    DOI: 10.1080/07350015.2018.1497510
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    3. Bensch, Gunther & Gotz, Gunnar & Peters, Jörg, 2020. "Effects of rural electrification on employment: A comment on Dinkelman (2011)," Ruhr Economic Papers 840, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    4. Braakmann, Nils & McDonald, Stephen, 2018. "Student exposure to socio-economic diversity and students’ university outcomes – Evidence from English administrative data," MPRA Paper 90351, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Gregory Gilpin & Michael Kofoed, 2020. "Employer-Sponsored Education Assistance and Graduate Program Choice, Cost, and Finance," Research in Higher Education, Springer;Association for Institutional Research, vol. 61(4), pages 431-458, June.
    6. Nicholas Broten & Michael Dworsky & David Powell, 2019. "How Do Alternative Work Arrangements Affect Income Risk After Workplace Injury?," NBER Working Papers 25989, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Brian Beach & W. Walker Hanlon, 2019. "Censorship, Family Planning, and the Historical Fertility Transition," NBER Working Papers 25752, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. David A. Jaeger & Theodore J. Joyce & Robert Kaestner, 2019. "Tweet Sixteen and Pregnant: Missing Links in the Causal Chain from Reality TV to Fertility," NBER Working Papers 25446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Daria Loginova & Marco Portmann & Martin Huber, 2020. "Assessing the effects of seasonal tariff-rate quotas on vegetable prices in Switzerland," Papers 2012.02966, arXiv.org.
    10. Jaeger, David A. & Joyce, Theodore J. & Kaestner, Robert, 2019. "Tweet Sixteen and Pregnant: Missing Links in the Causal Chain from Reality TV to Fertility. A replication study of Kearney & Levine (American Economic Review, 2015)," International Journal for Re-Views in Empirical Economics (IREE), ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, vol. 3(2019-1), pages 1-16.
    11. Gamboa, Luis Fernando & Rodriguez Lesmes, Paul, 2019. "The fertility-inhibiting effect of mosquitoes: Socio-economic differences in response to the Zika crisis in Colombia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 63-72.
    12. Abby E. Alpert & William N. Evans & Ethan M.J. Lieber & David Powell, 2019. "Origins of the Opioid Crisis and Its Enduring Impacts," NBER Working Papers 26500, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Jason M. Lindo & Isaac D. Swensen & Glen R. Waddell, 2020. "Persistent Effects of Violent Media Content," NBER Working Papers 27240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • L82 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Entertainment; Media

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