By Madison Teuscher
You may not be aware that being a woman comes at a price—literally. The “pink tax” is an industry-wide hike in prices for products marketed to women, notably hygiene products, clothing, and even car repairs. A recent study from the University of Central Florida found that women’s deodorants were priced 30 cents higher than men’s, even when the only discernable difference was scent. The companies in question have tried to defend these different prices, claiming everything from “different packaging” to being “completely different formulations”—despite having the exact same percentages of the exact same ingredients.
Sounds crazy, right? Unfortunately, this is reality—not only do women make less than men, but they also must pay more. A recent study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that women’s hair care products cost, on average, 48% more than the same products meant for men. This large survey of over 800 products found that women pay more than men 42% of the time. It is estimated that women pay around $1,351 more per year in extra costs because of the pink tax. At Walgreens, Excedrin Complete Menstrual costs 50 cents more than Excedrin Extra Strength, despite the fact that both medicines have the same ingredients in the same quantities.
Store marketing often prevents customers from immediately seeing the discrepancies in prices between men’s and women’s products. There is often a “men’s aisle” and a “women’s aisle” that separate products based on gender rather than function. This branding is seen even children’s toy aisles, and the gender division, although inefficient, is used as a marketing strategy. This often leaves consumers unaware of what is known as “shrink it and pink it”—charging women more for less product. Take, for example, the picture Twitter user @kelseyanzai snapped in Walgreens. A pack of 12 pink “Ultra Soft Women’s Earplugs” costs $5.49, and a pack of 14 blue “Comfort Foam Earplugs” costs $4.19. I mean, this is earplugs we’re talking about. These products look identical in all but colored branding, yet still somehow cost over a dollar more for women.
The pink tax isn’t just exclusive to hygiene products. In 2009, Janet Floyd, cofounder of a Manhattan market research firm, was charged $8.75 for a shirt to be laundered, and the same company charged only $7 to launder her husband’s (larger) shirt. Floyd then called 50 cleaners in Manhattan and found that for laundry services, men paid $2.86 on average, and women paid $4.95.
How about for other services? In a 2013 study, men and women called various car repair shops asking about the cost to replace a radiator. Both men and women were instructed to act uninformed on the phone, and women were quoted, on average, $406, whereas the average quote for men was $383.
The pink tax doesn’t stop there—there is even gender-bias in international trade tariffs. These gendered taxes are anything but subtle– men’s sneakers were taxed at 8.5%, whereas women’s were taxed at 10%. An imported wool suit is taxed at 8.5 percent for a woman and zero for a man. New York trade lawyer Michael Cone has been challenging the government on these taxes since 2000, and even sued the government over the tax discrepancies, with over 100 companies—including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and Steve Madden—signing on. Despite many companies supporting Cone’s actions and filing claims, the Supreme Court has continually denied retailers’ attempts to nix the gender-based tariff.
Luckily, there have been strides to end the gender tax. Under the Affordable Care Act, it is now illegal to charge women more for identical services, and insurers must cover birth control. Before the passing of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could use “gender rating”—charging women higher premiums that men for identical services. California has had a law in place against gender price discrimination for two decades, and the minimum fine for businesses found to be violating the law is $1000 dollars.
What can we do? Consider contacting your local governor or member of congress to speak in favor of a federal law outlawing gender pricing. One New York Times article suggests just shopping in the men’s section—oftentimes, the only difference between “men’s” and “women’s” products are the colored packaging and prices. One French Tumblr account, “Woman tax”, chooses to post pictures of the price differences between men’s and women’s products in order to create awareness and force companies to act.
The pink tax is not fair or justifiable, and yet still persists in the costs of countless everyday products. We can take a stand against these ludicrous price differences by putting pressure on brands and retailers to have equitable pricing.