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What factors determine the supply of prostitutes?

What difference has effective contraception made, if any? What factors affect the demand for prostitutes? What difference has the sexual revolution made, if any?

Essay 2004 11 Seiten

VWL - Sonstiges



I. Introduction

II. Essential Information

III. Supply
a. Supply model

IV. Demand
a. Demand Model

V. Conclusion


I. Introduction

Prostitution is meant to be the oldest profession, whether this is true or not, cannot really be distinguished, however the fact is that this phenomenon can be observed since ages.

For example Jesus saved a prostitute from being lapidated and forms of commercial sex can be observed in the times of the old Greeks and Romans (Posner 1992). In the medieval ages, in Germany, prostitution was organised by guilds, regulated by the authorities. It was proscribed, however, not denied or oppressed. Even the brothels were often property of the city (Hiscott: 2001). Also in other countries at this age, prostitution flourished. A major reason was that there were hordes of bachelors (Posner 1992)

After the breakout of syphilis in Europe and when the reforming theology gained more influence prostitution was oppressed. This repression lasted till the 19th century and with the industrial revolution the number of prostitutes increased rapidly. In Germany at the beginning of the First World War about 330,000, which is about 1% of the female population, were prostitutes (Reichel and Topper 2003).

Nowadays the number of prostitutes is higher in less developed countries however not insignificant in developed ones (Philipson and Posner 1993). The number of prostitutes in Germany is estimated by the government at 150,000(Morell 1998) and according to the Financial Times 25,000 prostitutes work in Amsterdam.

This essay will discuss the supply and demand for prostitutes. Initially, some essential information about prostitution is presented. Secondly, the supply of prostitutes is discussed in the sense of what determines it and if effective contraception had any influence on it.

Thirdly the demand side of prostitution is examined with respect to the influence of the sexual revolution. Finally, I give concluding remarks about the topic.

II. Essential Information

To begin with, the meaning of prostitution has to be defined. Webster’s 1913 dictionary defines prostitution as “the act or practice of prostituting or offering the body to an indiscriminate intercourse with men; common lewdness of a woman.” Mainly, a client buys sex however; he wishes the sex to be non-reproductive. Therefore, the definition by Edlund and Korn who classify prostitution as selling of non-reproductive sex, seems be appropriate and used in future

Prostitution can be divided into different stages of quality. The lowest stage includes street prostitution, brothels, bars, and clubs. The so-called call girls and escort services are situated in the middle to high-level quality. Summarised, it can be stated that the better looking, healthier and younger the women are (child prostitution excluded), the higher the level is in which they are situated. This comes along with higher pay and time ratio per client (Edlund and Korn 2002).

Additionally, prostitution is meant to be well paid, with high hourly wages. The usual rate for 15 minutes is about 30 pounds in Germany, which would add up to 120 pounds an hour, eight hours a day which would sum up to 960 pounds a day. However, this seems to be far from being realistic. Usually the time between two clients is several hours and two per day is the average (Reichel and Topper 2003).

Even so, the potential earnings occur to be elevated due to that prostitution is a low-skill, labour intensive and female dominated profession (Edlund and Korn 2002), high hourly wages are paid.

I assume that only men are clients and women are seller, nevertheless both genders sell and buy. Still, the main consumers are men (Philipson and Posner 1993). Further, most clients of prostitutes are primarily bachelors, married men in a companionate marriage give more value to sex with their wife than with a prostitute (Posner 1992).

In the following paragraphs, I will be talk about an unbalanced sex ration, this will refer to men outnumber women. The circumstance where women outnumber men will not be addressed.

III. Supply

On the supply side occurs the issue why should a woman become a prostitute. Edlund and Korn argue that a woman cannot be both a wife and a prostitute. They also state that marriage is a source of income and to compensate a foregone marriage, prostitution must pay better than any other jobs. The assumption of their model seems to be quiet harsh, however the role of a women in society has long been reducing to be a wife and a mother. Women were meant to marry and give children to the father.

The opportunities on the job market were limited and mostly the investment in the education of females were lower than for man, due to inferior return (Hamermesh and Rees 1988). Quoting a prostitute in the United States form the 19th century (Woloch 1996):”I don´t propose to get up at 6:30 to be at work at 8 and work in a close stuffy room… until dark for $6 of$7 a week. When I could spend an afternoon with a congenial person and in the end have more than a week’s work could pay me,” makes it clear how high the earning possibilities were. Consequently, a prostitute earned five times more than she would receive in a factory.

However, in this society, virgins had a high value for marriage, a girl looses her virginity before entering marriage; her value on the marriage market will be reduced. Her possible husbands will be from lower quality than the possible husband form women that still can offer their virginity (Posner 1992).

Prostitutes usually derived from girls that lost their virginity before marriage. Some of the girls enjoy sexual intercourse, however more convincing seems to be, that the chance on the marriage market has been reduced tremendously and no other options seemed feasible. As a result, a decline in the value of a wife who is a virgin would lead to a reduction in the number of prostitutes (Posner 1992).



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University of St Andrews – Economics and Finance
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Titel: What factors determine the supply of prostitutes?