Thursday, February 16, 2006
The Economics of Prostitution
But back to whores: Edlund and Korn admit that spouses and streetwalkers aren't exactly alike. Wives, in truth, are superior to whores in the economist's sense of being a good whose consumption increases as income rises--like fine wine. This may explain why prostitution is less common in wealthier countries. But the implication remains that wives and whores are--if not exactly like Coke and Pepsi--something akin to champagne and beer. The same sort of thing.
Yet according to data assembled from a wide variety of times and places, ranging from mid 15th-century France to Malaysia of the late 1990s, prostitutes make more money--in some cases, a lot more money--than do working girls who, well, work for a living. This held true even for places where prostitution is legal and relatively safe. In short, streetwalkers aren't necessarily being paid more for their increased risk of going to jail or the hospital.
Notwithstanding Jerry Hall's quip when she was married to Mick Jagger, about being "a maid in the living room and a whore in the bedroom," one normally cannot be both a wife and a whore. "Combine this with the fact that marriage can be an important source of income for women, and it follows that prostitution must pay better than other jobs to compensate for the opportunity cost of forgone-marriage market earnings," Edlund and Korn conclude.
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