The Wisdom of Whores

She explained, as if to an enthusiastic but slightly dim child, that a waria who is hanging around on a street corner to be interviewed by a research team is a waria who is not with a client.  ‘You are talking to all the dogs, obviously’.

Not something I learned in the lecture halls of London…but Ines is quite right.  Our sample is biased towards the ‘dogs,’ who get picked up less than the cuter girls.  So the study results underestimate the true number of clients per seller…

Ines’s comments…prodded us into changing the sampling strategy…now we work with the powers-that-be (the mami, the pimps, the brothel owners) to arrange off-hours time for data collection.  The principle….is that you are not cutting into people’s work time, so there is less chance of talking only to the remnant sex workers who can’t get a client.


Systematic measurement error, i.e., the whores underreported the number of tricks they turned to make themselves look good in the eyes of the enumerators.

In the qualitative research, the rapport built with the whores dulled that systematic underreporting. And yes, awesome example for an econometrics course!

Another possible bias is that prostitution is either part-time or seasonal (as is probably often the case) making number of encounters per week a misleading stat. Noreover, this could interact with the phenomenon described if true professionals are kept busier, or are otherwise better at turning tricks.

I agree that lines are longer at Burger King, but maybe the 'dogs' are not just ugly. They might have some matching problems with clients, due to location, price, outfit, approach, tastes or other. If this is true, the bias would still be there.

Re Tyler's comment, I think this is a situation where typical economic assumptions don't hold. There's little information in the market on pricing, and johns probably don't want to walk up and down the block doing price comparisons. There's probably also a good bit of price inelasticity. I can imagine there are street prostitutes who would have a hard time staying busy even if they were giving it away. They can only attract a few non-picky customers at the margin.

If the perception to outsiders is that they are 'turning dozens of tricks a week' then no one will complain about higher prices and assume that there services are a good in high supply. If we think that OPEC is outputting massive quantities then people will blame demand side causes first, especially in opaque markets and put the high prices down to increases in demand.

(same as market for prostitutes...i'm sure the average 'john' wouldn't be able to grasp from driving by kerb corners exactly what supply is like)

In effect this allows the hookers to cover for the fact that the service is in fact in rather more limited supply and that this is what is keeping prices high.

...i dunno, that is assuming prices are high

...or not

@ Tyler:

The equivalent of Morton's doesn't walk the street--Ashley Dupree takes the Accela. So the on the street market for prostitutes has some kind of ceiling in terms of quality. I would imagine, then, that the competition is not between Morton's and Burger King, but rather Burger King and Long John Silver's or Burger King and Duchess, or Burger King and Waffle House.

Furthermore, the slight edge in quality Burger King offers has dramatic effects on the returns these marginal advantages deliver. But not too dramatic, otherwise that Burger King employee would become an Ashley Dupree.

I think the same problem occurs during phone polls, at least with economic questions.

Poll all the sex workers you can find, ask them for a list of the other sex workers they know about and an estimate of how many tricks they turn per night. Build network, if errors randomly distributed, mean tricks / night = good guess. ;)

We can make a hypothesis about price elasticity, however until we get data, we don't know. One possible inelastic story is that client view dogs as dirty, so clients go to a recommended waria => network effects and a resultant power distribution of clients per waria capped by the number of hours in a night.

the convention wisdom is the opposite for phone polls: busier people have more phones. Maybe it's reversed now, if they aren't polling cells.

But they only lie when paid to lie. I don't think there's any reason to think that these people are any less honest than the rest of the population.

I'm on Greg with this one.
This is not an efficient market.
There is a point when you won't be selling yourself, because the price is to low.

This all reminds me that you have to be humble when you think you have it all figured out...(this mean you, libertarians!)

If anyone is interested, Elizabeth Pisani will be speaking in DC this weekend. The schedule is of course on

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I have some friends that work as escorts London and when I chatted with them and asked about how is the work and life, they didn't complain at all... They have grown attached to their job which pays well... I don't think I can compare them with street sex workers from the Far East...

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