Not that we’d look to Salon for good sense on anything of course but even the things they miss, the errors in their thinking are useful to understand. The agony aunt column has a piece from a stripper who seems blessed with a lousy boyfriend. She’s earning the money, he’s living off it and ain’t that terrible. The advice back is that you’re just great girl and you should do whatever.
There’s a certain amusement at the lack of equality being shown here. A bloke living off a woman’s earnings is apparently foul in a manner that the much more likely women living off a bloke’s isn’t. But what’s really fun to economic nerds like me is the way that it proves – as in to test, not affirm – Gary Becker’s contention about such work.
His original question being, well, why does sex pay so well? As that Freakonomics paper showed even at the low end it produces a much higher income than alternatively available occupations. And it’s unskilled labour too, a significant portion of the population has the basic necessary attributes. What is it that makes the wages so high compared to those alternative, equal skill level, occupations?[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]My significant other is constantly telling me how to live my life. We live together and I help take care of his daughter. He wants me to work more. (I’m a stripper.) I’m pregnant right now. We made the decision to get pregnant, and now he wants me to get an abortion, but I am not mentally prepared to do that.[/perfectpullquote] [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Men in all of my relationships have upped their budgets when we date. They want to go half on everything, then buy stuff that’s excessive — furniture, a lease that is more expensive than their budget, a new car — and expect me to keep up with what they think they need. He thinks me working every day is the answer, even though my work is an hour and a half away, instead of five minutes, now that we live together. He thinks it’s fine for me to work all night and drive. I’m drained and haven’t worked in a week, and he is freaking out on me and won’t talk about it. Just gives me the silent treatment and plays video games.[/perfectpullquote] [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We signed a lease together a few months ago and we move in next month. The rent is within my budget but not his.[/perfectpullquote]
Becker’s answer was that there are two different processes going on here. One is the straight compensation for the labour being offered. The other is the compensation for the loss of human capital – consumption of it perhaps – going on.
So, a woman with the looks to be able to strip for a living – yes, this is true, that’s the way sex works – has more choice of men as partners than the average woman. That’s the way that humans work. A woman who strips for a living – and also true of other forms of sex work – has less choice of man as partner than other women do. This is also true and is just the way humans work. You can call it fragile male psyche if you wish, you can appeal to the basic evolutionary set up of a man wanting to know the child he’s raising is his. But whatever we do regard as the reason why it’s a pretty easy observation to make. Being in the sex business increases current income at the price of reducing the class of long term mating opportunities.
That’s why the wages are as high as they are. Which is also the reason why this woman is getting the rather unsatisfactory men as her potential partners.
Hey, maybe it shouldn’t be like this but as Becker pointed out, we’re trying to understand how humans are, not how they should be.