The economics of prostitution

Very good description of (one) theory here.

21 thoughts on “The economics of prostitution”

  1. “…a high ratio of men to women tends to increase prostitution’s relative profitability (versus marriage). …If the surplus of men over women is temporary, say, because of war or upheaval, then the surplus usually leads to an even greater incentive to prostitution.”

    This should be testable. Look at the 1920s when there was a deficit of men over women, did that create a dis-incentive for prostitution? Any man who wanted a woman could pick and choose. Any woman who wanted a man was competing with a surplus of sisters. My great-grandmother remained a widow all her life as they ran out of available men.

    The article only tangentally touched on percived “value” of marriage. Society has moved to treat marriage as some annoyance, valuing it less and less. That should make the “capital value barrier” of prostitution lower as its being compared to an alternative of lower value.

  2. China currently has 105 males for every 100 females – probably a greater disparity in those of marriageable age. I don’t know how it affects prostitution, there seems to be plenty of it about, according to friends who’ve travelled there on business more recently than I, and found it tricky to leave their hotel without being propositioned.

  3. Was it Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke who said “there are only two jobs for women out here in the West, and I don’t teach school”?

  4. The Other Bloke in Italy

    About the 1920s: I read once of the headmistress of an upmarket girls’school, who told her charges at a 1918 assembly “Girls, you should understand now, that most of you will never marry. Your husbands are dead in France.”

  5. How many Johns and Jills were interviewed for this seminal study? I’m guessing nearly zero.
    My theory of prostitution is that it’s like football. A few superstars get most of the money, the rest are park players. And an STI makes changing your mind difficult.

  6. philip,

    I don’t think so.

    You have to remember with football that it’s a zero sum game. The job is to win and nothing else matters. Being a very good footballer isn’t good enough. You have to be in the top 0.01% of footballers to make money from it. And that applies to very few jobs. If you go to a restaurant, it’s not a zero sum game. You’ll still have a good time at a place that isn’t Michelin starred or whatever.

    And my impression from various data is that it’s more like restaurants. Yeah, there’s some women making massive money, but a lot of women who are making a reasonable living from it.

  7. @ jgh & TheOtherBlokeinItaly
    My great-aunt remained a spinster all her life because all her boyfriends died on the Western Front (probably more in Belgium than in France but it wasn’t my place to cross-examine to find out). That wasn’t enough to tempt her off the straight-and-narrow (I can’t imagine that anything would have) but the 20s seem to have “relaxed” moral standards (rather less so than the Restoration or inter-war Germany, but …)

  8. Some observations:
    Prostitutes don’t compete with wives. The majority of clients are married. Rather, they’re complimentary. Why a lot of marriages survive. Paying for it is a lot safer than going looking for it for free.
    They do not “much more, sometimes several multiples more, than comparably (un)skilled women would make in more prosaic occupations. ” Broadly speaking they make the same or less. A top flight girl with the looks, the social skills & the personality makes much the same as in civilian occupations require those attributes. The girl would be on a supermarket checkout makes about the same as a supermarket checkout girl. Most of them would be unemployable in any other field so make as much as anyone unemployable would. Barely enough to eat.
    And they are unbelievably high maintenance. 200 quid a week hairdresser bills are only a start. Nailbars do well. As do vendors of cosmetics. They buy a lot of clothes, considering how infrequently they wear them. And mostly live on delivered food.
    Never ever believe what they tell you they earn. They lie to everybody. Particularly themselves. It’s an occupation where your personal value gets validated on a daily if not half-hourly basis, unlike an annual salary revue. They remember the occasion they made a lot of money & presume the next such occasion will be arriving in ten minutes. All the other occasions they made peanuts don’t count.
    And of course they’re a load of vain, self-centred, untrustworthy, unreliable, deceitful, lazy, no-hopers. Which doesn’t help.

  9. It’s complicated. Or it seems so to me.
    There is a massive M>F imbalance in Fort McMurray but it doesn’t seem to have resulted in a rise in prostitution. That may be because there is not a free market, and a woman of negotiable virtue can make a lot of money dancing/stripping.
    Run this to the other extreme of F>M in care homes, and I’ve never heard ever of a scandal involving a gal inmate offering sexy services for money in one of these places.
    It may just be that 1:1 is the optimal male to female ratio for prostitution to occur. In a free market of course, of which there are few since about 1940

  10. “That may be because there is not a free market, and a woman of negotiable virtue can make a lot of money dancing/stripping.”

    I’ve never understood the stripping thing. Do people really pay to read a menu and not to actually eat the food?

  11. There’s a factor that I don’t think has been mentioned. “Working holidays”

    A cursory scan of the London listings show an inordinate number of Brazilian girls on what I presume are short term visits.

  12. This is what the model predicts. That folks would be unwilling to do it out of the back bedroom on their home street but more willing to do it far away. Because the reputation from far away is less likely to affect than that one right at home.

  13. This is also as the model would predict. Those who would trade long term capital (marriage to high status male etc) for current income will be those with short time horizons….

  14. I wonder what the economics of male prostitution are like. Plenty of erstwhile supply, not much demand. Since it’s the customers who have more reputation to lose, they tend to engage gigolos on foreign holidays rather than at home.

    Given the relative sex drives of men and women, I suspect the vast majority of Johns for male prostitutes are actually gay men, not women.

  15. It’s the intersection of culture and economics. Prostitution is part of Thai culture plus scant opportunity. Until recently Thai kings had harems. The current king possibly has one. Women need qualifications for anything inside with no heavy lifting and the pay is still shit.

    Most western governments pay women not to go on the game. As Jerry Pournelle used to say, when you are rich you can afford to do dumb things.

  16. The prostitute that I visited occasionally in the small brothel by the side of highway in the Netherlands (between the German border and Nijmegen) was from Romania. Petite little thing with big tits, which was my thing at the time.

    When we chatted about it she said that she came here because the people were nice, the money she received post-tax / post-costs was far higher than she could get in Romania, but it wasn’t just the money, it was the fact that absolutely no-one knew (not even her mother) that she was a prostitute, she told them she worked in a car rental place.

    She also had regular clients she serviced outside the brothel at a local hotel for straight cash (i.e. no tax, no brothel costs).

    Her reasoning for all of this was to earn money while she could and invest it but she could return home with her reputation intact and presumably still be an attractive prospect for marriage.

    Make of that what you will

  17. bloke in spain,

    A large group that I’ve heard about in the UK are single mothers. It’s not that they earn huge money doing it, it’s how quickly they can earn that money. Prostitution means you earn Tesco money in about an hour.

    Also the thing that single mothers find it hard to get new husbands.

  18. Anon,
    When I was poking around the London underworld 20 years ago there was not an English girl to be had. Nearly all eastern Europe.

  19. “A large group that I’ve heard about in the UK are single mothers. It’s not that they earn huge money doing it, it’s how quickly they can earn that money. Prostitution means you earn Tesco money in about an hour.”

    That’s like saying, because I can make wooden pull-along ducks with wheels in my garage, I can make min an hour as much as I would earn at Tesco. It depends on the demand for wooden ducks on wheels & how many other people are making them. UK has a lot of single mothers. A lot of them would like to rent out the asset they’re sitting on. How many blokes are buying? And that’s the important question. Not the supply but the demand.
    And that’s the thing everybody approaches this subject gets wrong. Including the tit who wrote the scholarly paper under discussion. There is, always has been and likely always will be, a vast oversupply of girls wanting to rent the goods over the amount of guys willing to pay for them. So it’s not what someone can charge but how much they actually get. Most prostitutes spend most of their time waiting for a phone not to ring.

  20. @jgh – “Do people really pay to read a menu and not to actually eat the food?”

    Have you never heard of the Great Britich Bake Off?

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