“Have you ever wondered if national well-being is higher in countries in which men have larger penises that in those in which men are less well-endowed?” That question opens economist Marina Adshade’s upcoming book, Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love. (The answer: As average penis size increases, national income increases—but only for a while, at which point the reverse holds true. Adshade dubs this relationship the “boner curve.”) Comparing the “global penile length distribution map” to GDP is a bit of a gimmick, but Adshade’s broader point is “that almost every aspect of sex and love is better understood by thinking within an economic framework.”
Take this tidbit: shorter men have younger wives. Why? Adshade explains that women tend to value height in a potential mate—even when controlling for income. As a result, short men in their 30s are “significantly less likely to be either married or in a serious relationship.” Short men, then, are more likely to be single when they are older, by which point: a) they have proven their abilities as financial earners and b) their more alpine colleagues are already hitched. At that golden moment, they can take advantage of “a later-in-life marriage market that is populated with younger women who are less concerned with their husband’s physical appearance and more interested in his ability to provide a stable income.”
Here’s another: lesbians earn six to 13 per cent more than heterosexual women. Adshade says that’s because gender wage gaps don’t exist in homosexual unions, as they tend to in heterosexual unions. Lesbians might not expect to marry a higher-earner in the way that heterosexual women might. One study she cites shows that this encourages lesbians to invest more in skills that will give them a labour-market advantage. In the long run, this early investment pays off. The same effect is observed among obese women, who “recognize that they are less likely to marry, and if they do, they are likely to be married to men who have lower incomes.” They invest more in their “human capital,” one economist argues, than thinner women do.
Adshade’s book, which will be released later this month, grew out of an undergraduate economics course she taught at the University of British Columbia. In an effort to grab her students’ interest, Adshade sought out spicy case studies to illustrate theoretical concepts. That led to a hit blog, which nabbed more than 750,000 unique viewers, and a book deal.
The book is full of such nuggets. Sales of “lubricants and sexual-enhancement devices” surge during a recession: “People need a cheap way to feel good in tough times.” Higher beer prices reduce risky sexual behaviour. A “seriously unattractive guy would have to earn about $186,000 more than a really hot guy in order for women to prefer him.”
Asked where the economic hand will exert its greatest impact, Adshade does not hesitate: the growing gap between college-educated men and women. It is an increasing challenge, she says, for women to find a husband with equal or greater educational achievements. “Women will need to revise their expectations” (in other words, marry down), she says—or not marry at all. Or perhaps, Adshade muses, “more men will eventually go to university just as an attempt to improve their marriage prospects”—or at least their chances of having sex. Imagine that ’60s-era jab about female students on the hunt for “Mrs. degrees” being turned on its head, so that it’s boys who are advised to attend university to get their Mr. degrees.
The burgeoning field of sex economics has attracted its share of critics. Skeptics contend that wily hearts will not be tamed by market forces. Others are wary of such models, since they tend to posit women as (frigid, withholding) suppliers of sex and men as (lascivious, vehement) demanders—and thus fuel tired stereotypes about heterosexual romance.But Adshade insists sex economics can offer intellectual solace: to those who are tired of debating marriage along political lines—and who find bar graphs more palatable than moral dictums.