'SuperFreakonomics': Prostitution as Career Choice

Best-selling authors talk about how call girls can teach economists new tricks.

ByABC News
October 20, 2009, 10:38 AM

Oct. 20, 2009 — -- What do prostitutes and a department store Santa Clauses have in common?

If sex acts were stocks, which ones would yield history's biggest gains and losses?

And as patrons of the world's oldest profession, have men become the unlikely beneficiaries of the feminist movement? Or are prostitutes becoming shrewd entrepreneurs in the midst of a volatile financial market?

These are just some of the provocative questions swirling through the minds of economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. In their first book, "Freakonomics," they managed to spin dense, dry data into best-selling cocktail party fodder by using crack dealers, sumo wrestlers and baby names to explain what people want and how things work under the law of unintended consequences.

"I have a theory that the reason crime went down in the 1990s was that we legalized abortion in the 1970s," Dubner told ABC News in an interview alongside his co-author earlier this month. "We didn't make a lot of friends with that particular hypothesis."

And with the release of their follow-up, "SuperFreakonomics," they won't make a lot of friends among feminists or moralists, as they use cold, hard data to upset conventional wisdom. And they start by igniting a firestorm of controversy in the first chapter.

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt from "SuperFreakonomics."

Dubner and Levitt argue first, that the feminist movement has been bad for schoolchildren, as schools have been hurt by the "brain drain" of talented women leaving teaching for more lucrative careers. And they then argue that in some ways this has been very good for high-end prostitutes.

"Prostitution is one of the few -- if not the only -- sector of the labor force that's dominated by women, and always has been. And that arises from the very simple fact that, you know, there are a lot of men who want to have a lot of sex more than they are able to get for free," said Dubner.

Before World War II, if a young man wanted sex, he had two basic options: marriage or a brothel. So in the 1930s, one in five American men lost his virginity to a prostitute.

A profitable sector for hookers -- until the sexual liberation movement in the 1960s changed the business of intimacy, and a generation of "free love" altered the marketplace forever. The modesty traditionally displayed by women in search of Mr. Right evolved to a bold pursuit of Mr. Right Now. And an era of casual sex -- prostitution's direct rival -- was conceived.

"The reason the relative price has fallen so much is because there is competition from women who will have sex for free," said Dubner.