Minor economic thought of the day

When Gary Becker looked at marriage, sex and prostitution through the eye of an economist those decades ago one of the points he made was that becoming a prostitute involved a loss of social capital. Thus those who did do so tended not to do so right at home.

Moved across town, went up to the big city, that sort of thing.

We see a variant of this happening now: women moving from poor countries to rich ones in order to sell sex. At least, that\’s one of the things I\’ve assumed was behind the international movements: if you come from Bratislava, or Smolensk, and you sell sex in Dubai or London the hit to your social capital in Bratislava or Smolensk is going to be lower than if you\’d been selling sex in Bratislava or Smolensk.

Yes, there are other things as well, like the hugely different amounts of money etc.

However, social mores have changed substantially since Becker was originally looking at these things.

No, there never really were days when every bride in white was a virgin but it was certainly a lot more common back when he was writing about this subject than it is now (the US is, as in so many things, an outlier in this).

And I wonder: was a part and parcel of that loss of social capital to do with the virginity thing rather than the prostitution thing? OK, we might have to go back further than 50 years, perhaps a hundred, but there was very much a time when a \”respectable girl\” (as I think we\’ll find there still is in various of the more patriarchal extant societies) was \”ruined\” by having had sex at all before marriage.

In most versions of most western societies this simply isn\’t true any more. Indeed, to even think along such lines is regarded as really rather odd (outside, as I say, those rather more patriarchal societies).

Yes, I agree, there aren\’t all that many men who go shopping for a wife at the local knocking shop (although the bars of Thailand might be a different matter) but I\’m just wondering.

Has the dropping of the virginity taboo thing led to there being less of a hit to social capital from the prostitution thing?

For example, among the professional classes there are few who are going to try and insist upon a career woman, university educated (you know, the sort of things that middle class men do actually look for in a wife) who is also a virgin in their mid to late 20s.

We also hear of just such university educated career women in the making paying their school bills from a bit of escorting on the side.

Does such escorting lead to the diminution of social capital (as measured by future mate choices, which was Becker\’s main point) in the same way that such activity might have done 50 years ago?

I an\’t actually think of any way to test such a point so I guess it\’ll just have to be peoples\’ opinions on the matter.

3 thoughts on “Minor economic thought of the day”

  1. People (generally) seem much more comfortable with partners who have slept with some “reasonable” number of people.

    But get above a fairly low number and people suddenly start exhibiting a disgust reflex. And the second they discover that people have had sex in anything other than a very picky manner most people react really quite badly.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    I think most Western men are uncomfortable about expressing a preference for virgins, but does that mean it does not count? I am not sure. I doubt that many men would be comfortable with a girl who slept with triple figures. Or even more than them. The chances of divorce go up a lot with sexual partners. But that could be interpreted in many different ways.

    I would guess that the truth is in the old days people didn’t care as much as they pretended, now they care more than they pretend, but nothing much has changed either way.

  3. “the truth is in the old days people didn’t care as much as they pretended, now they care more than they pretend”

    I think SMFS has summed it up beautifully there. The additional point I’d make is that what people really care about is future fidelity – which makes sense for Darwinian reasons. Past promiscuity is, perhaps, an imperfect but reasonable approximation of future fidelity.

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