Why do Blok M working girls earn more than university lecturers?

I was surprised to read in an Indonesian blog recently that university lecturers in Indonesia only receive salaries of around USD100 to 150/month.

And, incredibly, this is far, far less than what working girls in Blok M bars make in my calculations.

Let’s assume an attractive working girl gets Rp250,000 a night, and that she works alternate nights meaning she could work around 15 nights a month.

This would give her monthly income of 15*Rp250,000 or Rp3.75 million (around US$400). Not much, although considerably more than a university lecturer in Indonesia. Plus she gets a few perks like free drinks and meals as well as an endless supply of small soap bars and miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner from the hotels.

But why does she earn more than a university lecturer?

According to economist Steven Levitt there are four main factors that come into play in determining a person’s income:

1. If lots of people are willing and able to do the job, it doesn’t pay well. Makes sense of course. That’s why labor has virtually no value in Indonesia: there is such a large pool of unskilled labor here that workers literally earn peanuts. But shouldn’t it mean that lecturers get higher salaries than working girls as there are so few people capable of working as a university lecturer?

2. If the job needs specialized skills it pays more. A university lecturer must be highly educated with a top-notch degree and impressive work experience. This rules out 99% of the population. A working girl doesn’t need any specialized skills as such; or they can easily be learnt over time! Again, doesn’t this mean a lecturer should earn more?

3. Unpleasant jobs tend to pay more. Not too many young girls dream of becoming a working girl when they grow up, of course, but from a positive aspect they do get to work flexible hours in a place that the rest of us are willing to PAY to visit. So it can’t be that bad. And besides, there are far worse places to work than in bars and glitzy clubs. Like out in the hot baking sun for example.

4. If the demand for the services that a job fulfills is high, it pays more. This I guess must be the factor that swings it. Let’s put it like this: a university lecturer in Indonesia is far more likely to use the services of one of these girls than she is to sit in on one of his lectures!


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