When we think of prostitution, we don’t generally jump to networks; however, 2.3 million young women registered on ‘Seeking Arrangement’ are connecting with otherwise unlikely men, as they realize fantasies in exchange for money. This website’s effect on these girls’ networks is significant because it isn’t just a one night stand sort of thing. Sometimes, it even forms careers, but not the type of careers you’re thinking of. ‘Seeking Arrangement’ is an expensive dating website that connects wealthy men with college-aged girls. Although sex is commonly involved, these men, or “sugar daddies,” often seek intellectual girls who are eager to learn. In fact, Caroline Kitchener’s Atlantic article, “How Sugar Daddies Are Financing College Education,” tracks a Princeton University Senior named Amanda as she exchanges companionship (and sex) for “the finer things in life.” Kitchener describes the arrangement: “They want someone to come along on business trips, go to company events, and meet their friends—someone who understands and appears interested in what they have to say. Most importantly, they want someone who will help them pretend that the relationship is not a transaction. ” These men take smart, educated girls out to dinner parties, professional conferences, you name it, so they’re joining circles they have no business being in had it not been for the website (creepy, I know). Obviously, not everybody’s network is affected by this kind of website, but the remarkable aspect of this transaction is that these students are using their expensive college educations to attract and impress these older, more experienced men, and in return, they acquire both funds to pay that tuition and, more notably, connections with important people. It’s crazy to think these connections never would have been made had it not been for what is basically a prostitution website! Networks are currency too, I guess.
Although an economic analysis excludes the ethical dilemmas that are certainly involved with a case like this, let’s discuss the situation more deeply in the context of a market. There are a few ways to think about it. The first thing that comes to mind is that the girls have more outside options. One could argue that because there are more older men registered on the site (buyers) than young women and they are not doing business within their own group (i.e. Old men only spend money on young women, not the other old men), the women actually have more power. This is because the young girls can threaten to go get a higher paying man (a better outside option) on the site. All that said, this is an incomplete analysis, especially when you consider that there might be students who are in need of money, perhaps desperately turning to this method to pay down student loans. I would argue we don’t want a market like this to exist. Prostitution is illegal for a reason; it is unethical. Putting a different name/brand on it does not change that. “Illegalish” markets are, nonetheless, interesting to study.