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The Prostitute's Allure: Examining Returns to Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination

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  • Arunachalam, Raj

    ()
    (University of Michigan)

  • Shah, Manisha

    ()
    (University of California, Los Angeles)

Abstract

We estimate the earnings premium for beauty in an occupation where returns to physical attractiveness are likely to be important: commercial sex work. In the commercial sex market, perhaps more so than any other sector in the labor market, the beauty premium should be at the extreme due to the intimate interpersonal relationships required with clients. Therefore, the commercial sex sector provides the cleanest test for whether the beauty premium is driven solely by productivity. Somewhat surprisingly we find estimates that lie close to or comfortably within those for non-sex workers around the world. In fact, the estimated premium for above average beauty is only slightly larger than that estimated for women elsewhere, and the penalty for below average looks lies comfortably within the range of existing findings. We show that the beauty premium in the commercial sex market stems both from productivity and discrimination. In addition, including controls for personal characteristics (communication ability and desirability of personality) cuts the beauty premium by up to one-half. Our findings suggest that beauty premiums might be overestimated if measures akin to those in our dataset are not included in beauty regressions.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 5064.

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Length: 33 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 2012, 12 (1)
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp5064

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Keywords: sex markets; discrimination; beauty premium;

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References

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  1. Raj Arunachalam & Manisha Shah, 2008. "Prostitutes and Brides?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 516-22, May.
  2. Mobius, Markus & Rosenblat, Tanya, 2010. "Why Beauty Matters," Staff General Research Papers 32112, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  3. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Jeff E. Biddle, 1993. "Beauty and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 4518, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Xin Meng & Junsen Zhang, 1999. "Dress for Success — Does Primping Pay?," NBER Working Papers 7167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Baird, Sarah & Hamory, Joan & Miguel, Edward, 2008. "Tracking, Attrition and Data Quality in the Kenyan Life Panel Survey Round 1 (KLPS-1)," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkele qt3cw7p1hx, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  6. Jeff E. Biddle & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1995. "Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," NBER Working Papers 5366, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Paul J. Gertler & Manisha Shah, 2011. "Sex Work and Infection: What’s Law Enforcement Got to Do with It?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 811 - 840.
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