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

Author

Listed:
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Arunachalam, Raj & Shah, Manisha, 2010. "The Prostitute's Allure: Examining Returns to Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination," IZA Discussion Papers 5064, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp5064
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Raj Arunachalam & Manisha Shah, 2008. "Prostitutes and Brides?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 516-522, May.
    2. Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Meng, Xin & Zhang, Junsen, 2002. "Dress for success--does primping pay?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 361-373, July.
    3. Markus M. Mobius & Tanya S. Rosenblat, 2006. "Why Beauty Matters," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 222-235, March.
    4. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Biddle, Jeff E, 1994. "Beauty and the Labor Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1174-1194, December.
    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 qt3cw7p1hx, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
    6. Pfann, Gerard A. & Biddle, Jeff E. & Hamermesh, Daniel S. & Bosman, Ciska M., 2000. "Business success and businesses' beauty capital," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 201-207, May.
    7. Biddle, Jeff E & Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1998. "Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 172-201, January.
    8. 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, vol. 54(4), pages 811-840.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    sex markets; discrimination; beauty premium;

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing

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