A growing literature advocates for using a labor perspective to study sex work. According to this approach, sex work involves many of the costs, benefits, and possibilities for exploitation that are common to many jobs. We add to the field with an examination of job attributes and mental health. Our analysis is comparative and uses data from a panel study of people in sex work and hairstyling. We examined job attributes that may differ across these occupations, such as stigma and customer hostility, as well as those that may be more comparable, such as job insecurity, income, and self-employment. Our analysis used mixed-effects regression and included an array of time-varying and time-invariant variables. Our results showed negative associations between mental health and job insecurity and stigma, for both hairstyling and sex work. We also found two occupation-specific relationships: for sex work, limited discretion to make decisions while at work was negatively related to mental health, whereas for hairstyling, mental health was positively associated with self-employment. Our results highlight the usefulness of an inter-occupational labor perspective for understanding the mental health consequences of being in sex work compared to hairstyling.
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