Transactional Sex as a Response to Risk in Western Kenya

42 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2009

See all articles by Ethan Yeh

Ethan Yeh

World Bank

Jonathan Robinson

University of California, Santa Cruz

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 24, 2009


Formal and informal commercial sex work is a way of life for many poor women in developing countries. Though sex workers have long been identified as crucial in affecting the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the nature of sex-for-money transactions remains poorly understood. Using a unique panel dataset constructed from 192 self-reported sex worker diaries which include detailed information on sexual behavior, labor supply, and health shocks, we find that sex workers adjust their supply of risky, better compensated sex to cope with unexpected health shocks, exposing themselves to increased risk of HIV infection. In particular, women are 3.1% more likely to see a client, 21.2% more likely to have anal sex, and 19.1% more likely to have unprotected sex on days in which a household member falls ill. Women also increase their supply of risky sex on days after missing work due to STI symptoms. Given that HIV prevalance has been estimated at 9.8% in this part of Kenya, these behavioral responses entail significant health risks for sex workers and their partners, and suggests that sex workers are unable to cope with risk through other formal or informal consumption smoothing mechanisms.

Keywords: consumption smoothing, HIV/AIDS, transactional sex

JEL Classification: O12, I10

Suggested Citation

Yeh, Ethan and Robinson, Jonathan, Transactional Sex as a Response to Risk in Western Kenya (January 24, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Ethan Yeh

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Jonathan Robinson (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Cruz ( email )

1156 High St
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
United States

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