Meet the Pink Tax, a History of Women Overpaying For the Same Stuff
If you’ve bought razors, shaving cream, shampoo, a t-shirt, a pink bike helmet for your child, or well, practically anything else from the “women’s” or “girl’s” aisles, you’ve paid more. It’s called the pink tax. Products geared toward women are routinely priced higher than those geared toward men. And it’s costing women a lot.
In 2015, The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs studied gender pricing in the aptly named, Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being of Being a Female Consumer. After researching nearly 800 products from more than 90 brands, the study found products specifically geared toward women cost more 42 percent of the time. Products designed to seem more “manly” cost more 18 percent of the time.
This unequal pricing starts, as the report’s title suggests, at birth. The study found onesies for girls cost 4 percent more. Baby shoes? 3 percent more. Kids shirts cost 13 percent more for girls. Jeans cost 8 percent more.
Pink toys and accessory often cost more simply because of the color. The study cites two identical scooters then for sale at Target. The original red scooter cost $24.99. A “Sparkle Pink” edition cost twice that. (When we recently checked the prices of these scooters at Target.com, both were now listed as the same price.)
The study found adult women spend an average of 13 percent more—or $6.43—every time they need to stock up on the essentials like deodorant, body wash, shampoo, and razors. Feminine hygiene products carry a literal tax, as all but four states consider them a “luxury” item subject to the sales tax. Necessity items are exempt from the sales tax in most states.
Menopause doesn’t bring much relief for the pink tax. Women pay 15 percent more for supports and braces commonly marketed toward senior citizens. Canes are 12 percent more expensive if they’re geared toward women. Even personal urinals (what used to be known as bedpans) have a 21 percent up charge—do the manufacturers really expect us to believe there’s some secret “women-focused” technology going on there?
It’s been this way for a long time. In 1994, the State of California ran their own gender pricing study and found women paid about $1,351 more per year than men on goods and services. That’s about $2,188 today.
Aside from surface-level design, these products likely aren’t substantially different than the same products geared toward men or not geared toward either gender at all. Mostly it’s just the same item in a sparkly package.
Some retailers have publicly taken a stand against the pink tax . Boxed, a sort of online answer to Costco and Sam’s Club, has. pledged to lower prices on everyday essential items like razors or shaving cream. They’re also rebating the sales tax applied to feminine hygiene products. In the UK, Tesco recently agreed to slash the price of women's razors in half after pressure from a Parliament member.
In the U.S., there may be some legislative help on the way—eventually. In 2016, California Democratic Rep Jackie Speier introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act aimed at normalizing prices for substantially similar products. Later in the year, the Democratic staff of the Joint Economic Committee released their own gender tax study citing everything from tariffs to price fixing as the reasons behind the price jumps.
Maybe a few bucks or some pocket change on these items doesn’t seem like that much of a tax. But consider that every time a municipality wants to increase the sales tax by a half-cent there’s a political fight. After all, that’s money you could be using to build a retirement nest egg, fund the down payment for a house, or roll around in a giant pile of dollar bills. You earned it, you should be the one that gets to decide how to use it.
You can fight back against the pink tax by simply turning away. If a product you’re interested in features an unnecessary feminine design or boasts being created specially for women compare it to a similar item geared toward men or not gendered at all. Does that men’s razor also have three or four blades and a comfort strip? Then the products likely aren’t that different, go for the guys. Same with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. If the active ingredient is the same, you’re not going to get any cleaner using the women’s version. Buying a kid’s toy, office supplies, organizers, and most anything else? Compare prices for different colors. Contrary to popular belief, women’s clothes don’t have to cost more than men’s—especially if they’re the same type of clothing, like t-shirts or jeans. Be sure to price compare those basic items to the brand’s men’s offerings—even if you doubt there’s much difference.The NYC study found examples of price gouging for women’s clothes from Levis and Abercrombie and Fitch.
Be forever wary of the pink—at least until retailers wake up and realize women are on to their game.