Sep 11 2007

The opportunity cost of sex

From the Undercover Economist: / Weekend columnists / Tim Harford – Dear Economist

Is there a relationship between a student’s decision of whether to have sex and his/her performance in school? Tim Harford finds there just might be.

There is little doubt that virgins achieve better grades. Yet is this because sex kills brain cells, or because kids who are already bored at school look harder for ways to amuse themselves?

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

24 responses so far

24 Responses to “The opportunity cost of sex”

  1. mina.songon 12 Sep 2007 at 7:03 am

    May be in some countries have different opportunity cost for different sex. For example, in Korea, male must serve army when it is optional for females. But in school, I don't think they have such different opportunity cost. Being a virgin could be unexpected and accidentally. Not all the girls lost their virginity by their choice.

  2. Sharon Lion 12 Sep 2007 at 6:38 pm

    In this article, it states that the tradeoff for sexual activity is lower grades. I don't think this is because sex kills brain cells, but rather the students have to sacrifice time or energy that could have been spent studying for time or energy to have sex.

  3. kxc.024on 13 Sep 2007 at 12:14 am

    According to the study, there isn't a great impact of sex and grades because those people that are having sex already had bad grades to start with. I, on the other hand, believe that even if someone had good grades to start with, becoming addicted to sex will inevitably impact his or her grades.

    But that's just my thoughts…

  4. Tim Chuon 13 Sep 2007 at 1:08 am

    The article makes it seem that sex is causing a decrease in grades. However, i see it as the other way around. Higher grades cause a decrease in sex. You spend so much time working to keep that high grade that time and energy spent trying to have sex is pushed aside. While those that spend less time on grades have more time for sex. Of course there are exceptions but thats what i think.

  5. julie.linon 13 Sep 2007 at 7:40 pm

    since the title of this article states the "opportunity cost" for sex, and says that grades go down BECAUSE of sex, i dont think that these decrease in grades should be caused by decrease of brain cells, rather the opportunity cost of sex, perhaps studying, for better grades.

  6. Rebecca Sungon 14 Sep 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I agree with Tim. People who are already getting high grades don't have the time to be going out, and looking for or having sex. According to the article, Professor Sabia said that those who were having sex were already doing poorly in school. I think for these kids, their mind is just simply not on their grades or even school. For those who were already doing poorly in school before the teenage years, by the time they reach their teenage years, they have given up on school; thus, they do other things like having sex.

  7. Conrad Liuon 15 Sep 2007 at 11:29 am

    Yeah…my opinion on this is the same as Tim's. If a student is working to keep his grade up, his or her mind will be on academics and keeping his GPA up. He/she won't be thinking about the prospect of sex, because of the fact that they don't want their grade to go down.

    Those that are already HAVING sex are individuals who, as stated in the article, had lower grades to start with. Indeed, as Rebecca said, these kinds of students are those who are not thinking about school, or have given up on it, turning to other things to do; obviously, one of those would be to have sex.

  8. Margaret Liuon 16 Sep 2007 at 1:16 am

    this may be a risky question to ask but,

    SEX KILLS BRAIN CELLS??? wait are you guys sure the article didn't mean that metaphorically? as in decrease in grades aka killing brain cells? or am I misinterpreting all your comments?

    anyway, sex is supposed to be a great stress reliever, so supporters of Tim, i think you should rethink all that keeping busy with school shizaz because some could find the increase in stress (school work) as a calling for sex.

    And who the F writes to economists about the opportunity cost of sex? no you're not getting laid. especially with that name…ben buckinghamshire??

  9. Evanon 16 Sep 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Sex is healthy. Good exercise, works out frustration, and let's face it, it feels good. It is what we are designed to do as humans. Our most primal urge is to procreate. How can it be bad.

    I think if we take a step back and look at the stereotypes of who has sex in high school and who tends to wait. This starts to make even more sense. The "nerds" tend to get straight As and the dumb jocks tend to have more sex than the nerds. Of course stereotypes are not always true, but they have to have started some where.

    Plus, having sex gives you something to think about it, what is nicer to picture making love to some sexy little thing, or your Econ homework…

    And Margret what are you talking about? Seriously I don't even know where to begin. Let's stop the personal attacks and return to constructive conversation. This isn't the place nor the time for that type of posting.

  10. Jeff Yeon 16 Sep 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Despite margaret's comment, i still agree with Tim. Those who strive for good grades, tend to be more responsible and clear-headed. They understand the risks of sex in high school, and they decide that they aren't worth ruining a promising future. As for stress relieving, there are so many other ways to relieve stress that sex is but an option, not the only answer. Finally, to answer your first question margaret, Yes, sex kills brain cells, but so does tapping your head and combing your hair, so don't worry so much. I'm sure you still have plenty more left to lose.

  11. optional.xuon 16 Sep 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Tim does speak wisely. We could always use some… concrete examples, but that would be mean wouldn't it. Correlation isn't determinate either way or causal for that matter. So, in my opinion people who enjoy school and love learning, realize that they don't need sex. At the same time, these people are getting higher grades, going to great schools etc, because they are focused on learning. The people who are off getting laid every other day are living the moment and not considering the future as much. They seem to give the impression they don't care much for grades because they want to have fun in high school.

    I think that perhaps it's in the mindset of each student and what they want, grades and a better future, or sex and 'livin the life'.

  12. Christina Huon 17 Sep 2007 at 9:30 pm

    Sex may be causing a decline in grades, but that depends on the person and how diligent he/she is. I do not agree that bad grades are what cause people to have sex in the first place… someone may LOVE school and spend all their time and energy on homework, but still not get "good grades" (low IQ or such), so obviously, this type of person will not have time to go chasing after sex. However, people who have bad grades as a result of being COMPLETELY indifferent to school are the ones who will most likely go looking for fun and spending their energy elsewhere… as in, sex.

  13. Alex Goldmanon 19 Sep 2007 at 4:07 pm

    It would have been helpful if the writer of the article pulled out some of the statistics from Professor Sabia's work because when you're trading sex for grades, there's a good chance that a few points off one's won't stop them one having sex. This is because the marginal utility of having sex is likely to be greater the marginal utility of a few grade points. As many of you pointed out, sex works as a stress reliever, a source of pleasure and exercise, and ultimately as a method of procreation. To be fair, grades can not only be helpful toward one's academic career, but also boost self confidence and please others i.e., parents. When placed side by side, my guess is that people will find sex more appealing (unless your name is Ben Buckinhamshire, in which case utterly ignorant girls will definitely not find you sexually appealing.) Yet, if sex were to cause more damage than just a few points off – say it caused a passing student to fail, then the tables might be turned. That is why more statistics would have been helpful.

  14. Mondon 19 Sep 2007 at 7:16 pm

    The article did not give enough evidence (statistics) to back up its claim. I guess it all depends on the person's values. If he or she believes the benefit of sex is more then those achieved in academics, then he or she probably will probably devote more time on sex. On the other hand, if a student is occupied with a lot of homework, he or she might not have the time or afford to be distracted by things like sex. It all comes down to personal values and time management, if a person can manage their time effectively, regardless if they have sex or not, will probably have a good grade.

  15. Chan Min Parkon 19 Sep 2007 at 7:41 pm

    I don't think that sex is really causing the bad grades and that it can be proven scientifically. "kids who decide to have sex were already doing badly at school." I think this is really the point that is important. People who have sex at a young age tend to be people more rough or maybe distracted, whereas people who do not have sex at such a young age tend to be people who are more focused and are more 'good.' I can't really think of the words that can fit, but I really think that something else causes both of them, not one of them causes the other. Economically, i think the opportunity cost of sex is not grades. The opportunity cost of choosing a path could be sex and lower grades.

  16. Judy Chenon 19 Sep 2007 at 10:24 pm

    I don't think studnets who are getting bad grades is because they have sex. Well, it all depends on people. People who is virgin could be getting bad grades as well if he/she is not working hard enough or just simply not smart. It makes more sense if it is saying that the opportunity cost of sex is time, so he/she does not have enough time to study which leads to bad grades, instead of killing brains cells. If it actually killing brain cells as in the opportunity cost, there would be likely no smart people such as Bill Gates, since most adults have lost virginity already.

  17. Michael Dailyon 20 Sep 2007 at 12:33 am

    Sex can simply cause students to do worse in school because they are not studying. They are mis-allocating their time by having sex instead of studying for school. This, however, I do not believe will affect their future to a great extent. As long as the student maintains his or her schoolwork, having sex will only drop their grades by a tiny bit. Even if the child believes that school is boring and they should have sex and never study, then their grades would still not be drastically affected because they did not studying in the first place. Generally, students who have sex have worse grades because they are the latter type of student who does not care about school to begin with. Therefore, it is not sex itself that affects students grades, but their desire to learn.

  18. Jo Loon 20 Sep 2007 at 4:49 pm

    I do not think having a relationship/sex will cause a student to perform poorly in school. Students who already are doing poorly in school will continue to do poorly when they have a relationship and/or sex. A student who is performing well knows that a relationship will allocate time away from studying, which may cause the student to perform slightly worse at school. A student will continue to have the same study habits unless he or she wants to change, and nothing else, sex or not will influence that.

  19. robertwangon 20 Sep 2007 at 8:44 pm

    I agree with Jo and Micheal. Although having sex may apparently bring your grades down by a few points (didn't know it killed brain cells…) If a student is already performing poorly in class, it is unlikely that the sex is causing the low grades unless he/she does it all the time… I think the student's grades ultimately depends on how much she/he values their academics as opposed to whether they're a virgin or not.

  20. Cassy Changon 20 Sep 2007 at 10:42 pm

    I guess it really depends on each individual's priorities…inevitably, sex can be a distracter from homework, and time spent not working (the opportunity cost). Another point the article brings up that connects with what we're learning now, is the addictive aspect of sex. That just reminded me of one of the determinants of demand elasticity. I apologize for not coming up with a better connection, but a connection nonetheless =)

  21. Jeewon Ohon 23 Sep 2007 at 12:17 am

    I don't think the students' low grades resulted from the reduced brain cells from sex (I've never heard about it.) However, it is possible, as others have already mentioned above, that the students spent their time on having sex instead of studying or doing their homework. And it also makes sense that students with better grades had less time to have sex, because they were busy doing work. Overall, it makes sense either way that having sex affects the students' performance at school.

  22. SoYeon Yoonon 23 Sep 2007 at 1:59 am

    In this article, it is not clearly stated that having sex affects students' grades to fall. However, I think that having sex in some degree will affect the grade of students because they use their time, energy during sex and even when they are not having sex. It leads to lack of concentration on study and causes their grades to fall. If students find out that their happiness or excitement gained by sex is greater than their lost of time, energy and better grades, they will continue to have sex.

  23. frank fokafacon 28 Mar 2009 at 9:35 am

    The correlation between these two factors is too minor. They have little or nothing in common. To some sex opens their brian, while to some it reduses theirs. In my own view,both cases are facts and it depends on where one falls in.

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    The opportunity cost of sex | Economics in Plain English