It's Hard Out Here Without a Pimp


As Radley Balko mentioned yesterday, Sudhir Venkatesh and Steven Levitt have a fascinating new paper (PDF) on the economics of prostitution. Radley noted how unhelpful the police are, but I'm more surprised by how helpful the pimps are. Prostitutes who used pimps were found to make more per hour even after they'd paid 25 percent of their earnings for the pimping. They were arrested less often and were less vulnerable to police and gang members demanding free service. Thus:

It appears that the pimps choose to pay efficiency wages. Consistent with this hypothesis, many of the women who do not work with pimps are eager to work with pimps, and indeed we observe a few switches in that direction over the course of the sample.

Pimps pay better than the market wage and keep you safe and keep the police from demanding freebies. Who wouldn't want a pimp? Except:

Women who work with pimps are much less likely to be injured by customers; one of the services provided by pimps is protection. Pimps, however, hurt their prostitutes enough to roughly equalize the number of injuries.

So your options as a Chicago hooker are (1) work as a free agent, give sex away to the police, and get abused by clients or (2) hire a pimp and let him beat you occasionally. In neither case can women call on police for assistance; facilitating police protection would entail decriminalization. Which would be, you know, demeaning to women.

My review of Venkatesh's Off the Books is here.