Sex is cheap today. Its price declined largely during the sexual revolution in the 60s and remained low nowadays. Introduction of birthcontrol pills has changed the way how sex market works. Women no longer need to be worried about the unexpected pregnancy, which, using economic jargon, decreased their potential expected costs. Since more women enter the “sex market”, price goes down and supply goes up. But lower price of sex is disadvantageous for women, who want to remain virgins until their wedding day.
They actually never enter the sex market, but instead they hold out for the highest price, which is marriage. But that is a high-risk strategy today. Like American Sociologist T. Regnerus explained using the housing market analogy: “You can’t just decide that your house is worth $500,000 if everyone else is getting $200,000. … You can try for that price, but it’s unlikely you will get it.”
But the price is not the same everywhere. When we compare states with similar socioeconomic conditions, differences remain. For example the average number of sexual acts is almost twice higher than in the United States. Swedish women on average also have more sexual partners than Americans and the number of illegitimate births is significantly higher. Common explanation is usually the cultural distinctions between states, but that is just a partial clarification. Interestingly according to R. Posner the other part might be divergent child welfare systems. Like he writes in his book Sex and Reason: “In the economic analysis of sex, women surrender their sexual freedom to men not out of altruism, or biological predisposition, but in exchange for protection from men. If they do not need male protection – if the taxpayer has taken the men’s place – they have less reason to surrender their freedom and share control of their children. The economic role of father is taken over by the state.”
Although the vision is oversimplifying, it has certain predictive power. Nice parallel phenomena could be observed in poor black communities in the United States. American child welfare is reasonably generous for women living in poverty. Men in these communities are not good providers of resources and protection for women and their kids, partly because of their own poverty. Disregarding other factors, poor black women do not have any reason to behave sexually restrictive, because if the price of sex increases, there is actually nothing men could offer in exchange. But it could be only a half true since it might result in the other extreme situation, when women do not offer any sex at all, since they get nothing for it. But it is not unreasonable to assume that women have preferences for having sex per se. The point is that with the existence of child welfare system female engages in more (and more risky) sexual acts than they would do without it. That results in exceedingly high rate of illegitimate births in those communities, which is not surprisingly very similar to Sweden. Posner’s conclusions in Sex and Reason are open to other interpretations. In this case his analysis is very similar to Becker’s theory of the impact of state pension plans on family disintegration.
Both economists point out the hidden effects of regulatory efforts, which in various setups overgrow the intended ones. Policy makers (maybe) have no interest in making women to behave more promiscuous, but it seems they indirectly do it trough child welfare systems.
Autor: Ludmila Hadincová