Econ prof puts $50,000 price on a good sex life

by Zana Bugaighis | 7/8/04 5:00am

Got sex?

Dartmouth economics professor David Blanchflower, along with Warwick University's Andrew Oswald, recently found that more frequent sex can improve one's happiness as much as a $50,000 raise.

Just how much sex is needed? Their findings show that increasing sex from once a month to at least once per week is enough to equal that 50 grand.

"Happiness is an interesting question for an economist, but we are looking at what gives people utility and how to measure how much utility people get," Blanchflower said of his study.

The paper, titled "Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study," was submitted in May to the National Bureau of Economic Research and looked to find how sex measured up to other factors in determining happiness. Findings were based on data from the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Surveys of approximately 16,000 Americans and the results were generalized for males and females of all ages.

"Happiness is the real question that we have been working on for five years -- sex is just a factor of it. As an economist, everything is scaled against money and that is why it is used as a comparison to sex. It is important to ask what actually constitutes an improvement in life," Blanchflower said.

The study also found that the number of sexual partners per year that optimize happiness is one, those who get paid for sex are the least happy and people who make more money do not have more partners or more sex than lower income individuals. The study actually found that the unemployed have more sexual partners than those with jobs. Despite the stereotypes, the unemployed finding excludes students, who were found to have less sex than the average non-student of the same age.

The median American is having sex two to three times per month, with those under the age of 40 averaging once a week. Women over 40 report having sex once a month, while men of the same age group report an average of two to three times per month. The reason for this inequality cannot be proven but the authors speculated that it could be due to the fact that "males, relatively, have exaggerated memories or have younger sexual partners or visit female prostitutes." Surprisingly, one-third of those over 40 years old report leading a celibate life.

The effect of sex on happiness is stronger for those with a higher level of education. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed or separated, though those who have never had sex outside of wedlock report low happiness scores.

Homosexual and bisexual people make up approximately 2.5 percent of the United States, and homosexuality does not have an effect on happiness.

Although the study is causing a great amount of sensation due to its content, Blanchflower insisted the findings are not surprising.

"The most interesting thing this study shows is that money buys happiness, but not as much as you would think. The findings are very moral; money doesn't buy more sex partners and people are actually happiest in marriage, making family life very positive," Blanchflower said.

The authors caution that it is impossible to tell if the causality runs in the opposite direction -- if the effect found is simply people having more sex because they are happier.

Disappointing as it may seem, the authors found that, "Americans have less dramatic sex lives than might have been imagined from television and other media."