The blog here is a bit of a dude space. What can you do? It’s a blog about finance. But before we wander away from SuperFreakonomics, I’d like to take a moment to bring up their chapter on prostitution.
I found reading the chapter a really unpleasant experience. Like Daniel Davies, I noticed that when they mention “the typical prostitute earns more than the typical architect” in the first book I couldn’t find a source. My reaction went beyond “this doesn’t seem like a correct statistics at all.” I remember thinking that was a really odd comparison, and that if they ever expanded their thoughts on the subject it would get creepy quickly, like if Schopenhauer was a teaching assistant for Economics 101.
And sure enough, the prostitution chapter kicks off the new book: “How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?” A lot of what you think of the section will depend on what you think of their thesis here:
There is one labor market women have always dominated: prostitution.
Its business model is built upon a simple premise. Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand.
Ummm. Rortybomb esoterica: A distant female relative of mine was a Playboy centerfold. To say that Playboy is female dominated because only naked women appear in it is incorrect. It’s like saying Girls Gone Wild is female dominated; or that the diamond industry is African child dominated. It’s true, in one sense, not true in most though.
I also find odd the idea that the historical trade and exchange of women’s bodies was an early form of “Girl Power!” A more realistic version would take into account that the exchange historically has been done by men, for the strengthening of relationships between men (as well as having other effects).
Anyway, they interview two prostitutes, LaSheena who works in a housing project for ~$25 per trick, and Allie who works high-class clientele for $400+ trick. How did they end up in different circumstances? I kid you not, they quote LaSheena as saying that she “doesn’t like men” and would prefer to not be a prostitute. They then later go on to describe how much Allie enjoys her job, enjoys men, analyzing the supply and demand of the industry, etc. They don’t say that this is the lesson directly, since they lose interest in learning more about LaSheena, but that’s hanging out in the background. They end by wondering why more women don’t become prostitutes. Seriously.
Oh – in the endnotes they mention that one of the two prostitutes gives guest lectures at Levitt’s UChicago class. I’ll let you guess which one.
Anyway, this was a roundabout way of wanting to link to these two excellent responses to this chapter: Sady Doyle at The Guardian, and her follow-up with Amanda Hess at Sexist Beatdown. They are worth reading on your lunch break.