Demographic Change, Prostitution, and Sexually Transmitted Infection Rates in China

Avraham Ebenstein, Harvard University
Ethan J. Sharygin, University of Pennsylvania

Since 1979, China has experienced an explosion in the sex ratio at birth. In 2005, there were 25 million more men than women below the age of 20. We examine the implications of having large numbers of men fail to marry on the supply and demand dynamics of sex work, with a focus on how this may affect the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We present an account of the massive increase in sex work following the economic reforms in the late 1970s. We then analyze the current dynamics of demand and supply for sex work in China, using both national census data and detailed microdata on sex workers. We find a clear link between high population sex ratios, the prevalence of sex work, and STI rates. We conclude our analysis with a discussion of policy responses in light of an anticipated increase in sex work.

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Presented in Poster Session 1