Officials from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) have been calling on the national brothel-keepers’ organization in an effort to assess the contribution that prostitution makes to GDP.
The almost impossible task of calculating the money generated by the oldest profession is being undertaken to conform with a European edict demanding that member states declare the percentage of GDP derived from illegal activities such as the sex trade, drug and people trafficking and contraband. Countries have until 2016 to comply.
Adding up the contributions made by illegal activities could have benefits — increasing GDP has the effect of reducing the public deficit as a ratio of output, so sex workers and drug dealers may help member states to drop below the EU debt ceiling of 3 percent of output.
Jose Roca, a spokesman for the Asociacion Nacional de Empresarios de Locales de Alterne — or the association of alternative clubs as brothels are known in Spain — told El Pais newspaper that he thought it was a prank when the INE telephoned asking for financial data.
The statisticians wanted to know how many prostitutes were needed for a club to be viable. The answer, according to Roca, is 50. They also wanted to know the average charge per service (40 to 70 euros or US$54 to US$95) and how many clients each sex worker saw each day (four to eight).
According to Eurostat, illegal activities, together with accounting changes covering rather less gritty subjects such as pensions — could add about 1 percent to the GDP of Poland and Romania, 1 percent to 2 percent to Spain and Italy, 3 percent to 4 percent to the UK and as much as 5 percent to the GDP of Finland and Sweden.
Inevitably, there are few reliable statistics. Most estimates put the number of sex workers in Spain at 300,000.
A police source estimated 60 million euros a day changed hands in prostitution.
“It’s impossible to calculate,” Roca said.
The UK Office for National Statistics estimated last month that the contribution to national output by sex workers was ￡5.3 billion (US$8.88 billion) in 2009, the latest year for which estimates are available.