Pornography and rape

Everybody and their brother is sending me links to Steven Landsburg’s most recent Slate column that reports on studies by economists that suggest internet porn reduces rape and the release of blockbuster violent movies reduces violence.

While the idea might strike non-economists as crazy, the theory makes sense. When you lower the price of a good that is a substitute for a second good, the quantity of the second good should fall. It is not obvious that internet porn and rape are substitutes (they may very well be the opposite, what economists call complements), but it is not impossible.

I have to confess that Halloween with four young kids (a fairy, a witch, batman, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz) has been a full time job for the last week. So I haven’t read the academic articles. The paper on porn and rape was actually written by my former student Todd Kendall, now at Clemson. It is not really fair (especially to your former student) to be skeptical without reading the paper, but I have to say I am skeptical of the empirical result. The kind of variation in the data that gives the result is that states that are quicker to adopt the internet saw bigger declines in rape. He then does a nice thing in the paper, going beyond just this one prediction to test other hypotheses, like do crimes other than rape fall with the internet (he says no) and does other sexual behavior change with the internet (he says yes). The concern is always, with this kind of approach, that there are other factors that might be driving both the adoption of the internet and the decline in rape. The challenge to those who want to refute Todd Kendall’s argument is to identify those variables. The challenge for Todd is to find other kinds of “natural experiments” that support his hypothesis.

I suspect there will be no shortage of folks emailing Todd for his data to try to shoot his story down. A blog called 2x3x7 offers some thoughtful criticisms of the analysis.

By the way, Steven Landsburg, one of the kings of bringing economics to a broad audience, has an interesting new book coming out next year. I read an advance copy and enjoyed it.

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  1. DevineCombien says:

    That’s very interesting. I would have thought that the increase in availability of pornography would increase the problem of rape.

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  2. DevineCombien says:

    That’s very interesting. I would have thought that the increase in availability of pornography would increase the problem of rape.

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  3. Gaijin51 says:

    Take that, Andrea Dworkin.

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  4. Gaijin51 says:

    Take that, Andrea Dworkin.

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  6. None of this is very interesting, even if it is sensational in the non-punctilious way common to the peep show.

    I didn’t take the time to follow the links, as hearing the author of the study was Steven D. Levitt’s student, Todd Kendall, I can only presume the study is skewed to the perspective one holds in relative youth, which drives me to my point:

    If Todd’s statistical assertions are true, and we should for argument’s sake assume they are for he scribed them, what makes them true?

    Is it that satisfaction of some otherwise unsatisfied male libido is being exercised in a different manner that is simply a crutch of sorts, that if ever removed would result in an measurable increase in these crimes, even possibly over and above previous levels?

    We can only wonder, and keep our daughters under closer scrutiny, making the problem even more confounding.

    My wife of thirty-eight years literally moved in with me when she was twenty, and I twenty one. She was an only daughter, and as I now look at pictures of her then, I’m astounded that she looks so young, even shockingly embarrassed. There’s nothing empirical about it, I simply blush looking at these pictures.

    Of course, girls then weren’t all three-hundred pounds and tattoos as they seem to me to be today… But that’s another story.

    And, though it never crossed my mind at the time, nor even for many years after till quite recently in fact, it’s a wonder and a tribute to her father and her three brothers I wasn’t either shot or beaten senseless for her indiscretion…

    Ah, youth… What the hell does anyone need pornography for?

    I’ll never understand it, I hope.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
    Limestone, Maine

    An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
    Precious Life – Empirical Knowledge
    The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time
    http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html
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  7. 110phil says:

    I have always thought that pornography would reduce rape. A few years ago in Canada, IIRC, the Supreme Court decided that a pedophile couldn’t be convicted for possessing stories of pedophilia because he wrote them himself. I thought that judgement was a good one for public safety … I always thought I’d rather have the pedophiles at home masturbating than hanging out in the schoolyard.

    Remember that joke about the woman who forces the man to masturbate twice at gunpoint? The punchline is he’s about to go out with her daughter.

    I would be skeptical of any study that went the OTHER way.

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  8. 110phil says:

    I have always thought that pornography would reduce rape. A few years ago in Canada, IIRC, the Supreme Court decided that a pedophile couldn’t be convicted for possessing stories of pedophilia because he wrote them himself. I thought that judgement was a good one for public safety … I always thought I’d rather have the pedophiles at home masturbating than hanging out in the schoolyard.

    Remember that joke about the woman who forces the man to masturbate twice at gunpoint? The punchline is he’s about to go out with her daughter.

    I would be skeptical of any study that went the OTHER way.

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