A Theory of Prostitution

This is the title of a research paper by economists Lena Edlund and Evelyn Korn, in which they consider the relative appeal of marriage and prostitution for women, and (closely linked) the relative appeal of wives and prostitutes for men.

Michael Noer in Forbes magazine shows wittily that the economic perspective on marriage is bleakly unromantic, but admits the point of the research is not to illuminate romantic feelings (for which we already have a culture’s worth of art and poetry) but to answer a specific question, namely, “Why do prostitutes earn so much money?” Is it compensation for the violence and disease which they are exposed to, or compensation for the fact that no-one wants to marry a prostitute?

Found via the book Economics Uncut: A Complete Guide to Life, Death and Misadventure, edited by Simon Bowmaker, which has many examples of economic research into topics like drugs, crime, abortion and gambling and includes Edlund and Korn’s original paper.

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