The third season of MTV’s hit series “16 and Pregnant” wrapped up last week. The show and its spinoff, “Teen Mom” — the third season of which begins next week — have become cultural flashpoints, spurring national conversations about everything from sex education to body image. While “Teen Mom” participants — girls from previous “16 and Pregnant” episodes — are a fairly homogenous bunch of mostly Caucasian youth, “16 and Pregnant,” which features a different young woman in each week’s episode, has featured a much more diverse array of young women.
But in the show’s three seasons, to the best of my knowledge, a Jewish girl has never been shown. (I’ve watched all of the episodes, and none of the teenagers has identified as Jewish.) Why is that? One answer is that, simply, no Jewish parents have thus far given permission for their daughter and her story to be shared on camera. But an informal survey of Jewish girls and women presents some other theories.
A 27-year-old who works in the not-for-profit sector told me about girls with whom she attended Jewish summer camp who became pregnant as teenagers and chose to terminate their pregnancies. “These were girls from good families who later went to Ivy League schools,” the young woman told me. “There was no way they were going to have babies.”
Another Jewish woman, a 30-something public relations professional, offered up a second explanation: “I knew several Jewish girls who had babies in their teens, but they were frum and married already.” In other words, not exactly the kind of teen pregnancy story MTV is looking to tell.
Also, many of the young women featured on “16 and Pregnant” come from lower-income families, and they agree to air portions of their lives on television in exchange for money or big-ticket items. (Several past participants have said that they were compensated for their time on the show with cribs, car seats and other expensive items they needed for the baby.) The ante goes up higher if a young woman is selected for the “Teen Mom” cast: One of the mothers from the original cast, Amber Portwood, reported that her income was upward of $280,000 a year.
One of season three’s participants, Izabella Tovar, kept her pregnancy a secret for nearly eight months, in part because she was worried about whether she would be ostracized at her Catholic high school; I found myself wondering whether a pregnant teenager at a Jewish day school would have similar concerns.
Whether pregnant Jewish teenagers have chosen not to do the show based on shame, lack of financial need, a decision to terminate the pregnancy or any number of other factors is unknown. It’s much easier to gather data about people who have appeared on the show than the ones who haven’t. For now, all we’re left with is hypotheses.
Lilit Marcus is the editor in chief of Crushable.com and the author of “Save the Assistants: A Guide for Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace.”