Being a woman isn’t cheap. One recent study confirmed this, finding that women fork over significantly more on average than men for virtually the same products. If it’s designed with a woman in mind, the price will be escalated, according to a study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).
The study was designed to reflect an average consumer lifecycle, from infant to senior, in order to mirror the experiences of consumers of all ages. Prices on toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care products, and home health care products for seniors were examined.
The trend of higher prices for women’s products was pervasive and startling. Across all five industries, women’s products cost close to 7% more than essentially the same products for men.
The Pink Tax
The largest discrepancy, according to DCA findings, was on personal care items. Razors, hair care products, and adult clothing cost 15% more on average if aimed at women (a fact that most women could probably already attest to).
Could different ingredients have something to do with the price discrepancy?
To address this question, the DCA spoke with Dr. Gary Kelm, a 35-year veteran in personal care product formulation at Procter & Gamble. Kelm explained that women often pay a premium for ingredients that look good on the label but usually make up less than 1% of the product.
“These ingredients yield no significant benefit to the consumer, but legally enable a brand to advertise the use of that ingredient and the potential benefits it could confer,” the DCA study states. “Examples include natural extracts and botanical ingredients, which are frequently used in women’s products.”
And the “pink tax” starts early for girls.
In the toy aisles
The study also provided a few case studies on children’s products, such as bike helmets, scooters, and shampoo. Indeed, similar — even identical — products were priced much higher if their target demographic was female.
One product highlighted by Julie Menin, commissioner of the DCA was a children’s scooter. A side-by-side comparison of the two scooters shows that the two are structurally identical. One, however, is pink. The pink version, called a “girl’s scooter,” was twice as expensive as the red one, labeled a “sports scooter.”
Since the report came out on Dec. 18, Target, which has run into trouble over price disparities before, has lowered the price of the scooter and blamed a “system error” for the discrepancy, according to the Washington Post.
What can you do?
While the DCA report notes that in some instances there are legitimate reasons for the price gaps, it points out that women generally can’t avoid higher prices. It costs more to be a woman, plain and simple.
There are no federal laws that outlaw the practice of gender-based price inequality, but they are policed on the state and local levels. California outlawed the practice in 1996 after a state study found that a “gender tax” cost women approximately $1,351 more annually.
Women can take action by switching out of the women’s section entirely, by writing letters to Congress, or even by reporting price discrepancies on social media. Raising awareness, as always, is a vital part of fighting injustice.