Friday, 16 August 2013

The Social Costs of Abstinence

Suppose that the correlation between one's sex life and earnings were actually causal, and worked from sex to income rather than the other way round. What correlation? This one:
Having an active sex life may make you happier, healthier and wealthier.
A new study reveals that people who had sex four or more times a week earned more money than their counterparts who weren't as lucky.
"People need to love and be loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others. In the absence of these elements, many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and depression that could affect their working life," study author Nick Drydakis, an economics lecturer at Angila Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, said to by email.
The discussion paper was published in July by the Institute for the Study of Labor,an economic research institution, in Germany.
Drydakis said he was interested in the topic because of previous studies linking sexual activity with extroversion traits (including being sociable, outgoing and energetic) and good health. In addition, good health has been linked to higher wages. A 2009 Brazilian study also showed a connection between higher wages and a more active sex life.
We can imagine some causal mechanisms that could run from sex to income. Happier people could be more productive at work. Or the cardiovascular benefits could yield better health and then consequently greater productivity. The authors do use a two-stage estimation procedure to try to isolate causality: they try to instrument for sexual activity, so it's at least more plausibly causal than much of what goes on in the public health literature.

If we follow the standard line in public health of assuming correlations are causal and in the "right" direction, and of ascribing as social all things private, we have to then worry about the social costs of abstinence. Those having too little sex earn less and so must be less productive. Those productivity costs reduce output and reduce tax revenue. And if it's working through a health channel, they also impose costs on the public health system.

The policy consequences are left as an exercise for the reader. But note that if you're recommending subsidies, you might need to offset the STD costs on the public health system via complementary regulations around health testing and public disclosure of who has what. This may seem like a violation of privacy, but can we really make rational decisions without perfect information?

[The should-be-obvious caveat: entire post subsumed within a "reductio" tag.]


  1. Thanks for this one. I did wonder, as I read through the IZA paper - would you consider the instruments used (including a belief in God) to be weak or strong? Thought it was a weakness of the study that the information on how often people had sex came from a phone survey and people have been known to exaggerate. So am thinking - this could be an ideal study for a controlled experiment, with people having sex only when directed/permitted by the economist-researcher. Could attract a few more to the study of economics maybe.


  2. I would have to look at it a lot more closely than I did. I'm sure I've seen papers showing links between religion and all kinds of outcomes before though, so I'd be awfully surprised if religion only worked on income via a sex channel.

  3. Along these lines of reasoning, couldn't you also argue that subsidizing prostitutes for poor people would improve upwards income mobility?

  4. yes very funny Eric, I think you best to keep on talking about sex, the Farrar Kiwiblog and Cameron Whaleoil are fading. You can keep on talking about sex and money and soon you number one NZ blogger. I am in Thailan
    d and I have a sad state of affairs to report. Sex depends on wealth and income here 100% .... Its bad .... , I hardly know where to turn. If i knew this years ago i would have worked harder. Cab you do an article on cheap sex, economy sex.
    You are on to a winner here

  5. We're the outcomes different for genders