Why do some women engage in transactional sex? Some unconventional economic research worth reading

From Jon Robinson and Ethan Yeh, an excellent new paper:

Why do women engage in transactional sex? While much of the explanation is that sex-for-money pays more than other jobs, we use a unique panel dataset constructed from 192 self-reported diaries of sex workers in Western Kenya to show that women who supply transactional sex develop relationships with regular clients, and that these clients send transfers in response to negative income shocks.

Regular clients are the primary source of inter-person insurance that women receive, and women report in a separate survey that client transfers are an important reason that they participate in the market.

This is one of the more thoughtful and innovative data collection efforts I know of.

Field economists (including me) can learn something here: our entire body of research does not need to rise and fall on large-N, two-panel surveys.

Another new paper of Jon’s, with Pascaline Dupas:

This paper studies the microeconomic impacts of the political crisis and civil conflict that immediately followed the December 2007 Presidential Election in Kenya.

Income, expenditures, and consumption dramatically declined for a broad segment of the rural population for the duration of the conflict. To make up for the income shortfall, women who supply transactional sex engaged in higher risk sex both during and after the crisis.

While this particular crisis was likely too short for these behavioral responses to seriously increase the risk of HIV or other STIs for these women, such responses could have long-term repercussions for health in countries with longer or more frequent crises.

Overall, our results suggest that social unrest can be an important channel through which political instability can affect long-term outcomes such as health.

John and Pascaline and I were all RAs in the infamous Busia in 2003. Ethan arrived shortly thereafter. They, apparently, made better use of their time than I did…

P.S. I feel that some enterprising JPALer should update the Busia wikipedia page to highlight it as Ground Zero of the RCT in development movement.