Marit Rehavi Seminar at the Bing Center for Health Economics

Does Decriminalization of Indoor Prostitution Reduce Sexually Transmitted Infections?
Evidence from the Rhode Island Experiment

Manisha Shah, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at UCLA;
Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER);
Faculty Affiliate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA)

Manisha Shah


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Room 5212, Santa Monica, 10:00-11:30 AM PST (Refreshments will be served)
Room 4130, D.C., 1:00-2:30 PM EST
Room 6408, Pittsburgh, 1:00-2:30 PM EST
Room 9005, Boston, 1:00-2:30 PM EST


Most governments in the world including the United States prohibit prostitution due to the public health risks associated with sex markets. Given these types of laws rarely change and are fairly uniform across regions, our knowledge about the impact of decriminalizing indoor sex work is largely conjectural and based on correlational analysis. We exploit the fact that a Rhode Island District Court judge decriminalized indoor prostitution in 2003 to provide causal estimates of the impact of decriminalization on the composition of the sex market (size, supply, and price) and population STI outcomes. We show that decriminalization of the indoor sex market decreased police arrests of prostitutes, increased indoor prostitution advertising, and expanded the size of the indoor prostitution market itself. We also find decriminalization caused female (male) gonorrhea to decline 61 (27) percent from 2004 to 2009. Our synthetic control model finds that 1,215 fewer cases of female gonorrhea occurred from 2003 to 2009 as a result of decriminalization.


Dr. Shah received her Ph.D. in agriculture and resource economics from UC Berkeley in 2006. Shah is a development economist whose primary research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of applied microeconomics, health, and development. Much of her research involves primary data collection and fieldwork, and she has worked extensively in Mexico, Ecuador, Indonesia, and India. She has written several papers on the economics of sex markets in order to learn how more effective policies and programs can be deployed to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. She has also worked in the area of child health and development. She is currently the PI on a large scale project in rural Indonesia attempting to understand the causal impacts of improved sanitation on child health outcomes.


Questions? Please contact Suzanne Benedict at or x6873. Non-RAND invitees planning to attend in Santa Monica must RSVP by Monday, 3/25. Please contact Suzanne Benedict with your name, company/university affiliation, and national citizenship (required upon admission into RAND Headquarters).