Wife or whore -- take your pick!

Economists conclude that women can choose either prostitution or marriage.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published February 18, 2006 1:21AM (EST)

It would be easy to get worked up over Michael Noer's article in Forbes titled "The Economics of Prostitution." But an economic analysis that distills the complexity of human interaction into a one-dimensional cost-benefit analysis is bound to sound, well, a little harsh.

The article discusses "A Theory of Prostitution," conducted by economists Lena Edlund and Evelyn Korn, which returns to the wife/whore dichotomy that we all know and love so well. Published in the Journal of Political Economy, the study concludes that the alternative to either marriage or prostitution "can be ruled out, since we assume that the only downside of marriage for a woman is the forgone opportunity for prostitution."

So that's why some married women long for their single days. It's hard to take any study too seriously that simplifies women as goods to be bought by men (although in economics-speak, it does sometimes happen that way). What's actually troublesome is Noer's suggestion that prostitution requires little skill. He says that "prostitutes make more money ... than do working girls who, well, work for a living." Because sleeping with people for money is just a walk in the park? Prostitution might not be a skill cultivated from a $120,000 college education, but I'd venture to say that it requires more skill than this article concedes.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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