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The Economic Returns to Good Looks and Risky Sex in the Bangladesh Commercial Sex Market


  • Asadul Islam
  • Russell Smyth


This study examines the economic returns to beauty and unprotected sex in the commercial sex market in Bangladesh. The results show that there is a beauty premium for commercial sex work, but it is within the bounds of the economic returns to beauty for women in occupations that do not involve sex work. We find that there is an earnings premium for sex workers who sell unprotected sex and that more attractive sex workers charge a higher premium for unprotected sex. This result is consistent with either attractive sex workers having more bargaining/negotiating power or attractiveness and risky sex being complements for males in the presence of attractive women. The results are robust to a number of empirical specifications including controls for sex workers’ disposition, client characteristics and a number of fixed effects to control for other attributes of sex workers and their clients.

Suggested Citation

  • Asadul Islam & Russell Smyth, 2010. "The Economic Returns to Good Looks and Risky Sex in the Bangladesh Commercial Sex Market," Monash Economics Working Papers 41-10, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mos:moswps:2010-41

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Raj Arunachalam & Manisha Shah, 2008. "Prostitutes and Brides?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 516-522, May.
    2. Anderson, T W & Kunitomo, Naoto & Sawa, Takamitsu, 1982. "Evaluation of the Distribution Function of the Limited Information Maximum Likelihood Estimator," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 1009-1027, July.
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    4. Peter G. Moffatt & Simon A. Peters, 2004. "Pricing Personal Services: An Empirical Study of Earnings in the UK Prostitution Industry," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 51(5), pages 675-690, November.
    5. Jonathan Robinson & Ethan Yeh, 2011. "Transactional Sex as a Response to Risk in Western Kenya," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 35-64, January.
    6. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
    7. Paul Gertler & Manisha Shah & Stefano M. Bertozzi, 2005. "Risky Business: The Market for Unprotected Commercial Sex," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(3), pages 518-550, June.
    8. 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.
    9. Rivers, Douglas & Vuong, Quang H., 1988. "Limited information estimators and exogeneity tests for simultaneous probit models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 347-366, November.
    10. Marina Giusta & Maria Tommaso & Steinar Strøm, 2009. "Who is watching? The market for prostitution services," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 501-516, April.
    11. Trevon D. Logan & Manisha Shah, 2013. "Face Value: Information and Signaling in an Illegal Market," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 529-564, January.
    12. Andreoni, James & Petrie, Ragan, 2008. "Beauty, gender and stereotypes: Evidence from laboratory experiments," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 73-93, February.
    13. Samuel Cameron & Alan Collins & Neill Thew, 1999. "Prostitution services: an exploratory empirical analysis," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 31(12), pages 1523-1529.
    14. McAlvanah, Patrick, 2009. "Are people more risk-taking in the presence of the opposite sex?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 136-146, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cheng, Zhiming & Smyth, Russell, 2015. "Sex and happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 26-32.
    2. Astghik Mavisakalyan, 2016. "Looks matter: Attractiveness and employment in the former soviet union," Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Working Paper series WP1604, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC), Curtin Business School.

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    JEL classification:

    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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