Wednesday, December 09, 2009 12/9/09 - prostitution

In today's excerpt - prostitutes in the
United States a century ago likely made in
excess of $70,000 per year in today's dollars
- far in excess of
today's prostitutes, and were a higher
percentage of the population. The reason?
Today's prostitutes face more competition
from women willing to have sex with a man for
free. This conclusion stems from the work of
economist Sudhir Venkatesh on the subject of
the Chicago prostitute industry:

"It turns out that the typical street prostitute
in Chicago works 13 hours a week, performing
10 sex acts during that
period, and earns an hourly wage of
approximately $27. So her weekly
take-home pay is roughly $350. This includes
an average of $20 that a
prostitute steals from her customers and
acknowledges that some
prostitutes accept drugs in lieu of cash -
usually crack cocaine or heroin, and usually
at a discount. Of all the women in
Venkatesh's study,
83 percent were drug addicts.

"Many of these women took on other,
work, which Venkatesh also tracked.
Prostitution paid about four times
more than those jobs. But as high as that
wage premium may be, it looks
pretty meager when you consider the job's
downsides. In a given year, a
typical prostitute in Venkatesh's study
experienced a dozen incidents of
violence. At least 3 of the 160 prostitutes
who participated died during
the course of [his] study. 'Most of the
violence by johns is when, for some
reason, they can't consummate or can't get
erect,' says Venkatesh. 'Then
he's shamed,- 'I'm too manly for you' or
'You're too ugly for me!' Then the
john wants his money back, and you definitely
don't want to negotiate
with a man who just lost his

"Moreover, the women's wage premium pales in
comparison to the
one enjoyed by even the low-rent prostitutes
from a hundred years ago.
Compared with them, [the typical street
prostitutes] are working for next to

"Why has the prostitute's wage fallen so

"Because demand has fallen dramatically. Not
the demand for sex.
That is still robust. But prostitution, like
any industry, is vulnerable to

"Who poses the greatest competition to a
prostitute? Simple: any
woman who is willing to have sex with a man
for free.

"It is no secret that sexual mores have
evolved substantially in recent decades. The
phrase 'casual sex' didn't exist a century
ago (to say
nothing of 'friends with benefits'). Sex
outside of marriage was much
harder to come by and carried significantly
higher penalties than it
does today."

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner,
Superfreakonomics, William Morrow,
Copyright 2009 by Steven D. Levitt and
Stephen J. Dubner, pp. 29-30.


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