Bogus Research: Stop Forwarding That Story About How Ovulating Strippers Make More Money

by Bubbles on April 3, 2012 · 13 comments

in Money, Silly Media Coverage

Sex work seems to invite entertaining, original economic research. Wouldn’t it be interesting to quantify the change in income for a women who change careers to begin stripping? Or how much money dancers pay out to clubs? What do they do for the local economy? What kind of sales techniques are most effective for strippers? What marketing is effective for escorts in different markets and income brackets? What is the elasticity of demand for sex work?*

The first time I heard about the “Ovulating Strippers Make More Money!” study, I thought, “oh, that’s interesting! I wonder what they learned. So many strippers must have been studied.” But NO. Here’s the story: Two researchers at UNM in Albuquerque studied dancers for two months. They studied 18 dancers. In one club, in one city. For two cycles. There are so so many things to ask here. For instance, did ovulation coincide with the Pit hosting an NCAA tournament round? Since all the dancers were in one club, did they all work together often enough to have their cycles sync up, and did this perhaps amplify any effects ovulation or menstruation would have had?

The study is a start towards what they ultimately hope to look into (estrus in human females), but it’s an example of something that ultimately hurts us all: Harmful legislation is frequently passed on the basis of research that amounts to little more than a collection of anecdotes. Just about every anti-strip club ordinance or punitive stripper tax or licensing fee relies on decades-old studies with precious little basis in fact. And every once in a while I still see citations of this paper where the author said that 100% of the dancers she’d interviewed (coincidentally also a total of 18) had been sexually assaulted (this, perhaps, could be the case in some clubs, I know that it never happened to me until I worked in some bars with lax security) and had a dancer describe having roadkill thrown at her, which sounds to me like something a smartass stripper would say to fuck with a clumsy interviewer.

But back to my point and my headline, which is my irritation that I still get emailed, tweeted, and Facebooked links to this irritating study. Every single time I have to point out its miniscule sample size, short duration, and self-reporting, all characteristics of, at best, pre-research, and not a reputable study. Let me reiterate:

  1. The sample size is tiny. They studied 18 dancers. 18!
  2. In one club, in one city.
  3. For two months.

The idea is solid: Let’s tally up what strippers earn and see if some ovulation x-factor—pheremones, subtle changes in behavior or appearance, signs of fertility—affects their money. I’d sign up to participate in a study like this. IF IT WAS REAL RESEARCH. You’d have to have at least 200 strippers in fifteen different cities track their earnings and cycles over the course of a year. This should allow business cycles to even out. I keep scrupulous track of both my menstrual cycle and my earnings, and I have a Paragard (nonhormonal) IUD, so I’m a great test case. And the results, from the last three years (eighteen times longer than the UNM study), are thus:

2009: Period shifts: 4% greater than average. Ovulating shifts: 20% lower than average. Definitely contrary to what the research would have predicted.

2010: Period shifts: 5% lower than average. Ovulating shifts: 21% greater than average. The big difference in ovulation’s favor was its concurrence with a big sports weekend one month. Without that, my ovulating shifts would have been 6%.

2011: Period shifts: 9% lower than average. Ovulating shifts: 2% lower than average. Which must mean being horny makes my money go down, but not as much as having cramps.

For me, the biggest predictor of high earnings was being somewhere where a big event or good season was in swing, and keeping a consistent schedule. That’s all! Much like birth control, when and how you make your money is different for every dancer, but the biggest factor remains having customers coming in the door. If there is an across-the-board difference, maybe a more comprehensive study will reveal its existence.

*Feel free to send us your links and papers.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

story story April 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm

brava! T&S should have its own research team :)

Reply

Pdxstoney April 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm

At least that paper got an Ignoble award for bad research. That was probably one of the laziest research papers I’ve ever seen. But I did like their technical description of a lap dance.

Reply

StuartJRitchie April 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

There are a few things that can be critiqued in the Miller et al article, but you’ve not really hit on any of them here. The sample size is obviously a problem, and it would be nice to see the study replicated, but it fits in with other research showing that men tend to find women more attractive when the women are ovulating (ie it’s not a crazy idea). For instance, see: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/271/Suppl_5/S270.full.pdf

You suggest that menstrual synchrony might have affected the results (though it’s not clear how). But this idea is itself highly controversial, even though it’s often assumed to be true. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_synchrony

You say that a sample of 200 would be required. Is this based on a calculated power analysis or something? I’m not sure where this figure came from.

Finally, I’m not sure it makes sense to critique the study for being a collection of anecdotes (it’s not, though – the results were analysed using the standard statistical tests psychologists use), and then describe your own, ultimately anecdotal, experience.

Oh, and just to correct the commenter above- the Ignobel Prize is not for ‘bad reaearch’. It’s for research that ‘first makes you laugh, then makes you think’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ig_Nobel_Prize

Reply

Bubbles Bubbles April 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Heeeeey Stuart, it’s so nice to hear a condescending and pedantic voice over here. Been a while.

If I’ve “not really hit on any of them,” why is the the first problem you cite the first thing I complain about?

My figure of 200 came from MY ASS.

My experience is of course just one experience but I don’t know how you can call reported numbers “anecdotal.” Here’s an anecdote: “I feel like I always make more money when I’m bleeding.” Here’s me: “NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS.”

And wow, thanks for making sure we all are properly versed in what the Ignobel Prize is.

When you learn how to have a conversation as a person, come on back!

Reply

Benny April 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

You know, Stuart isn’t being pedantic here. This kind of commentary is pretty much to be expected in scientific blogging, and is completely respectful and sensible. If you want to blog about science, you can’t get all butthurt when someone calls you on inaccuracies or wants to engage in real discussion/debate with you. Debate over details is what makes science work – and allowing inaccuracies (such as the syncing of menses) to just go by unchallenged would be deeply unscientific.

Stuart was commenting as a person. You are not.

Reply

Elena April 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

*polite cough*

Bubbles, I don’t think Stuart is really trying to be pedantic and condescending; his reply is pretty consistent with the types of critiques I hear in journal clubs. (I’m working on an MS in Neurobiology, and I’ve heard much worse comments from my advisor when discussing a paper…)

I haven’t read the Miller paper myself, but now I think I might have to. I’d be interested in tracking something similar to this. Sample size of 18, I think is OK, but the length of the study I agree with you on — 2 cycles wouldn’t be statistically significant.

Personally I think the McClintock effect (if there is one) would probably be rather negligible, but it might also depend on the club size and would vary for individual girls. I work at a fairly large club with up to 70 girls a night, and we have new girls coming in and staying for brief stints and leaving all the time. I only spend 1-2 nights a week in the club myself, 7 to 8 hours at a time. The McClintock effect is supposed to occur when women spend a lot of time together – like when they live together. But I digress…

I’ve only recently started keeping track of my earnings last December and I’m on a hormonal birth control method anyway, otherwise I’d want to see if there’s any trend in my earning patterns too! I would imagine that the results would also differ quite a bit depending on the club and location – if you’re the type of girl who makes her bread and butter off VIPs with long time regulars on a set schedule, I doubt your fertility cycles would make a difference. For girls in tourist towns where you make hit & run money by doing lots and lots and lots of table dances, I imagine you might see an effect if men find ovulating women more attractive. I’m guessing Albuquerque is more of the former type, so I’d like to see if they could replicate these results in or show a stronger correlation in, say, Vegas (where one would expect lots of tourist $$) versus somewhere in middle America.

Reply

Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly April 4, 2012 at 6:45 am

If I remember correctly (because I’m not reading that again) there was also an issue with something like half of the 18 subjects only reporting half the time – was there not?

Unlike you, I did not keep scrupulous records of my periods, so I can’t review my earnings – but honestly, everything about it sounded wrong to me at a time when making money via lapdance was pretty much my whole life. While my opinions obviously don’t trump statistics, I think my fairly long tenure in the industry entitles me to ask for something a little more compelling that 18 chicks reporting their earning for 2 months (much less half of 2 months) before accepting something that is just in no way reflects anything like my life. Would I NEVER accept that my experience is an anomaly? Sure I would – but as I said, I need something a little more compelling than what I get here.

Science and statistics are discourses, just like everything else people. It’s useful for some stuff, but I actually think it is kind of odd and unreasonable to expect Bubbles to put her (well documented) experiences aside in favour of evidence that is just not that compelling, much less irrefutable.

Reply

Grace April 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm

What bothers me most (and I think this is some of what Bubbles was getting at, too?) is the phenomena of having some “objective expert” roll in for half a second, look around, and then produce “research findings” that supposedly describes an environment about which they still know next to nothing. The assumption that all strippers are alike (except that some are menstruating at the moment and some are not) and that all strip clubs are alike bears too much resemblance to the way strip clubs and strippers get treated in the public imagination already: “Hey, little girl. Let me tell you something about your life.”

There’s so much (like sporting events, like the differences between tourist-y clubs and clubs with lots of regular customers) that people have pointed out here that is likely to confound research, and that’s just throwing out stuff from the tops of our heads. Basically, it’s sloppy research, and no community likes having “knowledge” about them derived from sloppy research. It’s condescending, it’s ignorant, and it’s potentially harmful.

Thanks, Bubbles! I’m pretty tired of getting that link forwarded to me, too.

Reply

artdyke April 10, 2012 at 2:11 am

Thank you for this.

I’m so sick of this study, and another similar one that my friends and I refer to as the “ass-jiggling” study. Basically these researchers went into a strip club and — objectively, I’m sure — measured how much the stripper’s shook their ass and then compared that to where they were in their menstrual cycle. They concluded that strippers shakes their asses more when they are not on their period (again, from an abysmal sample size) and concluded: estrus! Totally! Not, you know, that being on your period sucks and perhaps might make you slightly less inclined to ass-jiggling… Wish I could remember the citation, but read up enough on this Ev Psych estrus fixation and I’m sure you’ll come across it.

Reply

Lila May 1, 2012 at 12:07 am

I can’t comment on the ovulating-strippers article, but I would like to join you in throwing down the gauntlet for some actual sex-work market research. Price elasticity indeed! If only I needed another social science degree…

Reply

AH January 5, 2013 at 1:42 am

give credit to them. at least their sample size has more than one person and reports fairly on what they’ve seen. most reports using statistics completely lie about their accusations. these guys just had two special strippers.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: