Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Elasticity of demand for condoms 

A story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is concerned about the effect of locking condoms behind a case to deter theft. It would lead, one person argues, to more people having unprotected sex. Well, maybe. It might also lead to more people abstaining from sex altogether, as Sean Hackbarth notes. This is simply a question of elasticity. Working it the other way, does reducing the price of condoms -- as the UK has recently done -- mean more people have sex generally that might have otherwise abstained? If so, could it lead to increased HIV incidence and increased unplanned pregnancies (by making sexually active those that would otherwise not be)? Again, this is a question of the elasticity.

What evidence does exist suggests that a 100% change in the overall price (wherein price means the sacrifice one endures to obtain a good) leads to a reduction in the quantity of condoms demanded by 5-15%. (Source.) So the question is simply, how much of the sacrifice a teen makes in acquiring a condom comes from the act of asking for the little box behind the counter vis-a-vis the monetary cost? I have a sample of one: It scared me to death.

UPDATE: Great article thinking about AIDS in December's Esquire. (h/t: Freakonomics blog, found via the Economic Roundtable, though Levitt's post seems to have gone missing.)