Women in the Western world have achieved enormous gains since the mid-twentieth century and advances continue around the world. Nevertheless, many gender disparities still exist. For example, a widely discussed idea is about women as wage-earners, specifically the idea that women typically earn less than men. It is estimated that a woman with median earnings working full time, year-round earned only 80 percent of what her male counterpart earned (JEC Democratic Staff, 2016). This 20-percent difference is commonly known as the “gender pay gap.
” And for a typical female worker, the pay gap adds up to nearly $10,500 over the course of a year and roughly $500,000 over a lifetime (JEC Democratic Staff, 2016). It is a lesser known fact, however, that women are also discriminated against as consumers. Women frequently pay substantially more than men do for almost identical goods and services. Examples of gender-based price discrepancies for goods and services have been seen throughout various industries.
This phenomenon may not be intentional gender discrimination, yet the frequency with which female consumers find themselves paying higher prices for gender-specific goods and services ultimately becomes a tax for being a woman. This markup on goods and services marketed to women has become known as the “pink tax” and is industrial gender exploitation. Everyday products marketed to women often come with a higher price tag when compared to similar versions marketed to men. In the late 2015, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (NYCDCA) published a study comparing nearly 800 products from more than 90 brands, specifically lookings for price discrepancies between items marketed to different genders. From this study they found that “42 percent of the time, women’s products had a higher price tag, whereas men’s products had a higher price tag only 18 percent of the time.” Also that even across industries, women’s products were consistently priced higher. Overall, women’s products were priced an average of 7 percent higher than similar men’s products. However, the difference in prices applies to males and females of all ages.
The NYCDCA report found that a “gender neutral scooter, called the Red Radio Flyer, was listed for $24.99 at Target. At the same time, Target was selling the Radio Flyer Girls version but for $49.99.” The report also noted that on average, girl’s toys cost more 55 percent of the time, compared to boys’ products whos cost more 8 percent of the time .
The difference in average prices was smallest for children’s clothing (4 percent), and largest for personal care products such as deodorants, body wash and razors (13 percent). The NYCDCA report did not, although, that men’s and women’s products are rarely identical, which makes precise comparisons difficult. However, multiple surveys comparing common consumer goods showed similar findings as the NYCDCA did. According to Consumer Reports, they found that when comparing common drugstore purchases (ie. shaving cream, deodorant and body wash) “products directed at women—through packaging, description or name—might cost up to 50 percent more than similar products for men.” They also found that BIC’s “For Her” pens cost double the equivalent gender- neutral pack. A pink wireless mouse by Microsoft was priced 39 percent higher than the identical model in blue.
A 12-pack of women’s Schick’s “Slim Twin” sensitive disposable razors cost 51 percent more than a 12-pack of men’s “Slim Twin” sensitive disposable razors. The price on women’s Narciso Rodriguez Eau de Toilette spray was 20 percent higher than the men’s version. And the pink and purple “fairy” version of simple wooden train set with a figure-eight track came with an 11-percent markup compared to the nearly identical version in primary colors.
Women not only pay more for products, but they often pay more for services. A prime example is the market for personal care services, including dry cleaning and haircuts. With these services, prices are typically higher for women. In a 2011 study, titled “The Cost of Doing Femininity: Gendered Disparities in Pricing of Personal Care Products and Services”, after surveying 100 hair salons, they found that 85 out of the 100 charged more for a basic women’s haircut compared to a basic men’s haircut. The average price paid by a woman was 54 percent higher compared to the average price for a man (Duesterhas, 2011). The study also found substantial price discrepancies for other services including dry cleaning, where women’s shirts would cost on average 92 percent more than men’s shirts. The pink tax on services alone cost a woman approximately $2,000 over the course of a year (Duesterhas, 2011).
Gender-based pricing that discriminates against women extends beyond personal care goods and services. Women have frequently paid higher health insurance premiums partially because of the expected costs related to pregnancy (DHHS, 2010). The Affordable Care Act specifically “eliminated the disparity in health insurance premiums between women and men”. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, before the law, a 22-year-old woman might pay 1.5 times the premium for health insurance compared to a man of the same age. However, there are those who claim that the differences in the cost of producing goods or providing services may be legitimate reasons for selling similar products or services at substantially different prices. For example, some products may use materials of a specific color or scent deemed “more feminine” which may cost more to manufacture.
One common marketing strategy industries use is the idea of “product differentiation”. Sellers frequently distinguish a product or service from others to make it more attractive to a particular target market, such as by changing the packaging or altering the color of a product. However, by doing so, they may increase the cost of production, which will in turn cause an increase in its selling price. There is also a practice of charging customers different prices for the same product or service known in economics as “price discrimination”. Essentially, sellers attract buyers who would otherwise not purchase their product by offering those buyers a lower price. In turn, it means that there will be higher prices for others who are willing to pay more in order to compensate the difference.
If sellers find that women are less price sensitive and are ,therefore, willing to pay more for a particular product or service, they are more likely to charge a higher price for a version marketed to women. “Women also are most industries biggest target” said Ted Potrikus, CEO of the Retail Council of New York State. “Retailers see women as their biggest target. Research and development, following trends, meeting trends, advertising products on television and in magazines are not cheap.
Companies are willing to spend more advertising to women than they are toward men, contributing to the price discrepancies.” (Ngabirano, 2017)And despite action by several cities and states to at least exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax, most women are taxed on purchases of these items which are a necessity for women and have no comparable male equivalent. Currently, women in most states must pay state sales tax on purchases of sanitary products. Of states with a state sales tax, only Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania do not impose a sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Federal law currently does not prohibit discriminatory pricing by gender.
However, a small number of state and local legislatures have taken steps to eliminate the pink tax for services such as drying clean and haircuts. California passed a law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in pricing for services in 1995. Legislators led by Rep.
Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act, introduced in the 114th Congress, which was modeled after California’s law. The bill would make it illegal to charge men and women different prices for substantially similar consumer products and services at the national level. Recent actions only begin to remedy the economic burden being borne by U.S. women in the marketplace.
The tax is particularly burdensome for women with low earnings because it eats up a larger share of their incomes. Gender-based price disparities clearly cost women and their family real money that they cannot afford to lose.