Do the best prostitutes get paid less than average ones?

Given the response to yesterday’s post on prostitution I thought I’d dig in to another paper on the subject.

The data set came from a website where prostitutes were “reviewed” by johns so most of the sex workers had finely tuned “attractiveness” and “performance” scores. The following made me scratch my head:

…while a unit increase in a worker’s average appearance rating is associated with a 9.2% increase in wages, a similar unit increase in a worker’s average performance rating is associated with a 2.0% decline in wages.

Huh? Paid less for doing better? Then things were clarified:

The latter result may indicate important omitted variables. For instance, it may be the case that sex workers differ in their time discount rate, perhaps because some prostitutes work to satisfy a drug addiction requiring immediate relief, while others are engaged in prostitution as a career. Those with low discount rates are likely to offer low prices in order to draw clients quickly, and also may be more willing to perform risky sexual activities (such as unprotected vaginal sex) that result in higher scores for “performance”.

There are plenty of interesting elements in the full paper but, given that it’s 81 pages long, I don’t think too many will take the time to read it. Here were a few other factoids that leapt out:

-The city with the highest paid prostitutes is London. It also has the highest mean attractiveness score.

-The most arrests for prostitution (indexed, 1970-2004) were in the early 1980’s.

-From 1999-2008 the number of online prostititues with breast implants has declined, while those with shaved genitalia or 2+ tattoos have doubled.

Tim Harford pointed out another interesting economic element of prostitution in his very fun book The Logic of Life. Why is it that giving condoms to prostitutes in Mexico has produced no significant decline in the number of sexually transmitted infections? Because the sex workers don’t use the condoms as prophylactics, they use them as bargaining chips to make more money from their clients. Before, unprotected sex was the only option. Now that they have the condoms, they can extract a premium for it.

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