There’s absolutely no reason for men and women to pay different prices for the same products and services—but they do. Find out how the Pink Tax affects everyday spending and what’s being done to squash it.
What is the Pink Tax?
The Pink Tax is a term for the additional dollars and cents tacked onto everyday items and services women buy and use. Something as mundane as a disposable razor is often more expensive when colored pink versus blue, simply because it’s marketing toward women instead of men. While the razors are extremely similar, if not identical, they come with a surcharge, forcing women to pay more for something that’s unnecessary.
The Pink Tax is not an actual tax, but an unfair gender pricing differential that’s believed to place an economic burden on women for simply being women, extending for the entire duration of their lifetime. From baby toys to walking canes, there’s controversy around this phenomenon of price discrepancy between gendered products.
The discriminatory pricing practice has a longstanding history. Before the Affordable Care Act was declared law in 2010 and took a stance against it, health insurers regularly charged women higher monthly premiums than their male counterparts. The understood reasoning for this was because women’s health costs are routinely more expensive due to reproductive care and procedures—as if a woman can change the fact that she was born with a uterus. (Insert eye-roll.)
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The Pink Tax originally dates back to the 1990s when the California Assembly Office of Research gained national attention for a report that discovered 64 percent of dry cleaning and laundry establishments charged women, on average, $1.71 more to launder a simple cotton blouse as opposed to a man’s button up. It also found that 40 percent of hair salons charged women more for a basic haircut while charging male clients less.
That was the ’90s, but this is 2022! How is this still happening, and what can we do about it?
It’s important to note that this subject is no stranger to debate. One side argues that the Pink Tax is a price discrimination that should be regulated against to avoid furthering the economic burden women face. The other side believes that the increase in price for certain female-branded products is based on the cost to make such items as well as supply and demand. The more women want certain products—and the higher the price they are willing to pay to own them—the higher and more consistent the markup.
And it’s not only supply and demand at work here. Marketing to women is a big business that has come with some questionable tactics to increase spending. With women making up 85 percent of overall purchases, their buying power is top priority for companies. In fact, a well-known, old-school marketing adage is “shrink it and pink it,” meaning to get a woman interested in buying any given product, all a seller has to do is shrink it down to a smaller size and color it pink. (Ew!) While it’s not inherently wrong for marketers to do what they can to reach their audience through tailored messaging, it IS wrong to charge more for these products marketed specifically to women.
What products and services are affected?
If you’re still wondering if this is really a thing, know that this concept has garnered a good amount of research studies proving that there is an identifiable difference between what genders pay for the same types of products.
One popular study is the 2015 case from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) titled “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer.” The study found that, on average, women’s products cost about 7 percent more than similar products for men. Among groups of products, there were significant differences in pricing for kids’ toys, children’s and adult’s clothing, personal care products and senior/home health care products.
If you use a personal care product like shampoo or deodorant, you’ve likely come across the Pink Tax at some point in time. And with so many products on the market, it can be overwhelming to compare pricing and be aware of the Pink Tax when making purchases. These are just a few examples of where it often pops up:
Hygiene products: Ever noticed that for every one shampoo or body wash for men there are five or so for women? Or how about different soaps or deodorants being sold as only for one sex? Often these products are packaged quite differently (ex: fields of flowers and smiling women for feminine items; basic blue or black packaging for masculine for those made for men), which is sometimes blamed for the price-gouging.
Another thing to note is the Tampon Tax and how it differs from the Pink Tax. Though sometimes confused, the Tampon Tax is an actual tax that’s applied to menstrual products, including tampons, pads, liners menstrual cups and other feminine hygiene products. Not only are these products a necessity (not a luxury), but women shouldn’t pay extra for simply having different biological functions.
Similarly, diapers are necessities for children and seniors, but haven’t been considered for exemption from sales tax in certain states until recently. What’s more, prints geared toward baby girls are consistently priced higher than boy prints on Amazon, regardless of size or bulk amount, begging the question if some products are subject to both the Tampon Tax and the Pink Tax. There are 27 states still applying sales tax to these items deemed necessary for women; thankfully, calls to cut tax on both diapers and menstrual products are currently in the works as of recently, as financial burdens have been magnified due to the pandemic.
Haircuts: At one point in time it may have seemingly made sense to charge women more for a fresh cut because it required more time and effort. These days, men have long hair and women enjoy shorter hair, blurring the lines of what’s considered a men’s cut and a woman’s cut on the service menu.
Some stylists are moving toward charging by length to eliminate any discrepancies for clients and ensure it’s cost effective for all parties involved.
Car Ownership: Looking to buy a new vehicle? According to a study from Jerry, women may pay up to $7,800 more than men during the length of car ownership of eight years. Factors include purchase price, repair services prices and insurance prices, all of which indicate that women pay more (and are quoted more!) across the board.
Other products include pens, pain medication, ear plugs, calculators, support wraps, bike helmets and more items that don’t need to be gendered. Usually the higher price is due to one color option being pink and the other blue or black. Additionally, dry cleaners (as mentioned above) are infamous for charging women more than men to clean basic clothing.
Whatever you buy, it’s estimated that the Pink Tax costs women an average of $1,300 annually, which is much more than a few pennies here and there.
A Bigger Picture of the Pink Tax
It’s no secret that women have been fighting to shorten the pay wage gap and be compensated fairly for the same work men do for more money. But aside from that (and we know that’s a big one!), it’s unsettling to think how this tax affects younger generations and women at large when it comes to gender norms and conforming to societal expectations.
It could be argued that society currently puts pressure on girls and women to look, act and be perceived a certain way. Clothes, cosmetics, hygiene products, salon services, etc. all play a part in achieving a norm that keeps women in a cycle of needing certain items to “look the part,” and thus, buying into the marketing monster that is the Pink Tax. Marketers and retailers know women will pay for these items just to feel accepted by today’s standards, and they profit off that vulnerability.
Even if a woman gladly chooses to partake in these products and services, the Pink Tax is still a reflection of what we value as a society when it comes to someone’s worth as well as the differences in how we raise girls and boys.
It’s about more than money—it’s about morals.
What’s being done to help?
In April of 2019 The Pink Tax Repeal Act was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, and it was introduced again in June of 2021. This act would make it illegal for companies to charge higher prices based on gender for consumer goods and services. Though still legal in most states, New York has since placed a ban on the Pink Tax and requires certain service providers to be transparent with pricing for everyday services. Businesses who do not comply are subject to civil penalties.
While the passing of The Pink Tax Repeal Act is still underway, there are ways consumers can do their part.
Support brands committed to gender-neutral pricing.
Choose gender-neutral products when shopping for toys and hygiene items. (Let’s nix the notion that there’s such a thing as a gender-specific toy from now on.)
Avoid the dry cleaners until they get on board with fair pricing for both men and women (or at least pay attention to what you pay for your items and be willing to respectfully ask questions if possible).
Check up on price differences before you buy comparable products. We know this takes time, but it’s too easy to not notice the difference in amounts, especially if you usually buy online.
Talk to your state representatives about getting behind The Pink Tax Repeal Act and make it known you do not stand with gender-based pricing.