Legal Studies

Legal Researcher Studies Prostitution Economics

An economist and author who is a research fellow at the American Bar Foundation has circulated preliminary data from a controversial study on Chicago prostitution.

A draft analysis co-authored by Steven Levitt, who wrote Freakonomics, found street prostitutes on average make less than $20,000 a year, the Chicago Tribune reports. The report, done as part of Levitt’s other gig as a University of Chicago professor, also found the prostitutes charged Hispanics and whites more than blacks. Unprotected sex costs slightly more, while repeat customers get a break on prices.

“Street prostitutes earn roughly $25 to $30 per hour, roughly four times their hourly wage in other activities, but this higher wage represents relatively meager compensation for the significant risk they bear,” the draft said.

The study also found that prostitutes gave free sex to police to avoid arrest. “A prostitute is more likely to have sex with a police officer than to get officially arrested by one,” the report said.

Levitt told the Tribune he did not want the results published because the findings are preliminary. Critics said the report does not adequately address prostitutes’ suffering and exploitation.

Levitt told the ABA Journal in the December 2005 issue that some of his research for the American Bar Foundation is also unconventional.

“A lot of what I do makes the bar foundation very nervous,” Levitt says, “but I have a lot of respect for the foundation because with every project I bring forward—usually loaded with tricky issues about race and class—the bar foundation has been willing to swallow hard and support me, knowing that my results weren’t necessarily going to be very popular.”

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