The Impact of Income Shocks on Sexual Behavior in the Commercial Sex Market: Evidence from Kenya’s Post-Election Violence

Jonathan Robinson, University of California, Santa Cruz
Pascaline Dupas, University of California, Los Angeles

After a disputed election, Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner of the Kenyan Presidential election in January, 2008, sparking widespread outrage and resulting in extended road and market closures. We study the impact that this shock had on one understudied population that particularly depends on markets functioning normally: commercial sex workers. First, the crisis had major effects on income and consumption, suggesting that existing risk coping mechanisms were not effective. Second, we test whether the crisis affected sexual behavior. Without adequate formal consumption smoothing devices, sex workers may resort to unprotected sex, at significant risk to their long-term health. We find large increases in unprotected anal and vaginal sex after the crisis, which has important implications for the spread of HIV and highlights the fact that vulnerable populations such as sex workers are likely to suffer from shocks along many dimensions other than income and consumption alone.

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Presented in Session 30: Socioeconomic Status, HIV/STIs and Safe Sexual Behavior