Monday, February 20, 2006

The Economics of Prostitution


There's a filler article at Forbes for Valentine's Day called "The Economics of Prostitution." Embarrassingly, it is written by the magazine's executive editor, Michael Noer.

The one-pager at Forbes is a breezy summary of a reasonable, substantial economic paper. The two economists who wrote the paper, Lena Edlund and Evelyn Korn, examine the relative utility of marrying and prostitution.

Here's the abstract of the paper:
Prostitution is low-skill, labor intensive, female, and well paid. This paper proposes a marriage market explanation to this puzzle. If a prostitute compromises her marriage market prospects, she will have to be compensated for forgone marriage market opportunities. We discuss the link between poverty and prostitution and show that prostitution may decrease with male income if wives and prostitutes are drawn from the same pool of women. We point to the role of male sex ratios, and males in transit, in sustaining high levels of prostitution, and we discuss possible reasons for its low reputation and implications for marriage patterns.
And you can read the whole paper here: "A Theory of Prostitution" (PDF file, 34 pages). It is thoughtfully and densely written, but with fun details in the literature summary. I can imagine Jane Hathaway reading the article aloud.

If the subject interests you more than the economic modeling, then I highly recommend this collection of writings collected by sex workers of all kinds. Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry. The different essays are written by women who loathe the sex industry as well as those who have relied on it for their income. It is written by prostitutes, strippers, phone call operators. It's an excellent book, especially in the way that they try to convey the complexities of the industry.

(Photo of the Major Award from, where
related items are for sale. No affiliation.)


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