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A Theory of Prostitution

Columbia UniversityEberhard‐Karls‐Universität Tübingen

Prostitution is low‐skill, labor intensive, female, and well paid. This paper proposes a marriage market explanation to this puzzle. If a prostitute compromises her marriage market prospects, she will have to be compensated for forgone marriage market opportunities. We discuss the link between poverty and prostitution and show that prostitution may decrease with male income if wives and prostitutes are drawn from the same pool of women. We point to the role of male sex ratios, and males in transit, in sustaining high levels of prostitution, and we discuss possible reasons for its low reputation and implications for marriage patterns.