The Stripper Index: Decoding the Economic Signals of Sex Work

Author: Venus Dhanda, Graphics: Anna Szymoniak

The BRB Bottomline: Popularized by the personal accounts of strippers and other sex workers, the sex industry has emerged as a powerful economic tool to observe and predict economic cycles on the national scale, known as the “Stripper Index.” Can our society overlook the intense stigma surrounding sexuality and utilize this economic indicator as the valuable economic tool it has the potential to be?

Economic Indicators

In the ever-evolving world of economics, economists employ a diverse arsenal of macroeconomic measures known as economic indicators. These indicators provide vital insights into the nation’s economic health, enabling policymakers, businesses, and individuals to predict economic cycles and implement necessary policies, investments, and day-to-day financial decisions. Traditional economic indicators, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), inflation, and Gross National Income (GNI), are among the most widely used and crucial metrics. 

These traditional economic indicators serve as barometers of economic health because they offer a comprehensive view of an economy’s overall well-being. For example, a robust GDP growth rate suggests economic expansion, while high inflation rates can erode the value of money and create instability, usually indicating the beginning of an economic recession. 

However, new, unconventional financial indicators with seemingly no connection to the economy have emerged as invaluable tools for forecasting and understanding the complexities of the economic world. These novel metrics, ranging from lipstick sales to the popularity of men’s underwear, capture nuances that traditional measures may overlook. The “Stripper Index” is an example of such an instrument, using the profits of sex workers such as strippers to predict the upcoming state of the national economy.

Understanding the Stripper Index

The Stripper Index – named for how it relates the revenue generated by strippers’ cash tips to the financial strain of consumers and the current economic cycle – though it encompasses all forms of sexual labor, has been mostly a joke to economists as they continue to explore different methods of predicting the economy. However, when X user and stripper @botticellibimbo correctly predicted the economic decline in 2022 based on her recent profits at work, economists began to examine the Stripper Index more closely. 

Though the relationship between the direction of the economy and the earnings of the sex industry depicted in the Stripper Index may initially seem arbitrary, economists can look to the decline in discretionary income during economic strain for evidence of the  correlation. 

Discretionary income is the portion of an individual’s income that remains after covering all necessary expenses, such as housing, taxes, and utilities. Consumers can then use this income by saving or by spending on non-essentials as they see fit. Common expenses classified as discretionary include entertainment, vacations, and hobbies, all not required for living and participating in society. Payments on products of the sex industry, from strip clubs to escort services, would fall under non-essential or discretionary purchases. 

When an economic recession is approaching, people tend to prioritize basic necessities over luxury expenses; as a non-essential expense, visits to strip clubs drop drastically. As labor economist Sania Khan told Glamour magazine, “When people have less discretionary money, going to a strip club isn’t an immediate, necessary thing that they have to do… In recessions, people are spending more on the things they need—their bills, food, energy, gas. You can see that that’s happening right now because of inflation—people are really feeling that in their pockets.”

Strippers and other sex workers are heavily reliant on cash payments and tips, as they receive 66.7% of payments for sex in cash. When these earnings decrease substantially, we can deduce that customers have less discretionary income to expend on the workers and the economy is beginning to experience strain. Popular workers stop renting out rooms every night, bartenders make fewer drinks, and hours get cut, leading to an even harder drop in sales and mass layoffs that signal what’s to come for the entire economy. 

Sex Work as a Valuable Economic Tool

Examining the revenue difference in the sex industry in the years prior to the Great Recession of 2008 illustrates how we can use this new tool to make sense of economic trends and predict resulting cycles.

The crisis had its roots in the U.S. housing market as a housing bubble was inflating, with home prices rising rapidly over the years before 2007. Easy access to mortgage loans, including subprime mortgages, allowed many to buy homes and invest heavily in real estate. As the housing bubble began to burst in 2007, culminating in the 2008 recession, the values of homes plummeted, leading to a substantial decrease in homeowners’ wealth. This reduction in property values and housing-related investments directly impacted consumer spending as people had less equity in their homes to borrow against or sell to supply their discretionary income. The resulting financial turmoil in 2007 and 2008 directly contributed to job losses in various industries, further decreasing the public’s funds for non-essential purchases, including the products and services of the sex industry. 

However, sex workers could have warned economists years before the recession actually occurred. In a study funded by the U.S. government on the economics of the commercial sex industry, researchers found that in all but two of the seven cities, the size of the underground commercial sex economy shrunk from 2003 to 2007, right before the recession fully consumed America. This decline in consumption of the products and services of the sex industry brings us back to examining consumer spending; the decreased revenue of sexual laborers served as an indicator of declining public equity during these years that was caused by the collapse of the housing market, which ultimately resulted in the 2008 recession.

Respecting Sex Work

This concept of the “Stripper Index” has so far been viewed as a humorous concept used to provide a lighthearted commentary on economic trends and behaviors rather than a serious tool for economic analysis or policy-making. Viewing adult entertainment through this lens seems to ignore the deep-rooted relationship between adult entertainment and business. As salesmen continue to conduct business in nightclubs and bikini bars, as @botticellibimbo writes, and as the sex industry begins to grow past a multi-million dollar industry, the incredulity with which economists view sex work’s impact on the economy seems to be rooted in how society equates sexuality with unprofessionalism and the intense stigma still associated with sex.


As Reddit user solo118 jokes, “when patrons can’t afford to throw a few singles in the air, or pay for a $20 lap dance, we might be up shit’s creek.” Sex work predicted the 2008 Great Recession and the cycle of economic decline in 2022, and economists have begun to grasp the relationship between the sex industry, the microeconomics of observing consumer spending, and national economic cycles. The Stripper Index not only offers a new perspective on predicting economic trends but also emphasizes the importance of broadening our understanding of the factors that influence financial markets; destigmatizing sex work and recognizing its role as a significant economic contributor is the next step. The Stripper Index stands as a reminder that a diverse range of factors and industries can provide essential clues to the state of our economy, and in this ever-evolving landscape, no source of information should be dismissed.

Take-Home Points

  • Economic indicators, including GDP, interest rates, and unemployment figures, are valuable tools that provide essential clues to the state of our economy.
  • Unconventional economic indicators with seemingly no ties to the world of economics have begun to rise in popularity as tools to predict economic cycles and help economists prepare for recessions.
  • The Stripper Index is a newly popular economic indicator that relates discretionary income and consumer spending (through the revenue generated by sex workers) to the health of the national economy.
  • The social stigma surrounding sexuality is why sex work is not credited as a valuable economic tool and only serves to limit our perspective on economic analysis.

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