Risky business

More evidence for the existence of a rational – if unpleasant – universe. Paul Gertler, Manisha Shah and Stef Bertozzi show in the Journal of Political Economy that Mexican prostitutes sometimes accept a premium (about 25 percent) not to use condoms. This paper uses panel data and is probably a better estimate than some previous ones.

The real punchline, though, is that they’ve worked out the implied value to these women of a year of healthy life: $15,000 – $50,000, which is (relative to income) extremely close to previous estimates from other dangerous jobs. If you want to increase condom use, education for prostitutes seems to have reached diminishing returns – instead, we need to reach the tougher goals of improving job opportunities for Mexican women, or persuading men that risky sex is not worth paying for.

Incidentally, I’ve been looking into this story for my next book. It is surprising (perhaps I should not be surprised) to discover how much you can learn from sex-tourism websites. Between the inevitable ponography, some of the advice to tourists is thoughtful and erudite, like a good restaurant review. Just a shame about the subject matter.

This is the last post of my stint on Marginal Revolution. Thanks very much to Tyler and Alex for the opportunity. It’s not as easy as they make it look.