Working Papers

War, Migration and the Origins of the Thai Sex Industry

Abel Brodeur, Warn N. Lekfuangfu, Yanos Zylberberg

This paper analyzes the determinants behind the spatial distribution of the sex industry in Thailand. We relate the development of the sex industry to an early temporary demand shock, i.e., U.S. military presence during the Vietnam War. Comparing the surroundings of Thai military bases used by the U.S. army to districts close to unused Thai bases, we find that there are currently 5 times more commercial sex workers in districts near former U.S. bases. The development of the sex industry is also explained by a high price elasticity of supply due to female migration from regions affected by an agricultural crisis. We then quantify the contribution of the sex industry’s geographic distribution on the HIV outbreak. We show that the clustering of sex workers, because of non-linearities in HIV propagation, induces high transmission rates and thus more infections. Last, we conclude by documenting benefits to concentration, e.g., when designing infection control.

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Paper Keywords

persistence, industry location, sex industry, HIV/AIDS