What Is the Pink Tax? How Gender-Based Pricing Hurts Women
If you’ve ever wondered why “women’s products” seem more expensive, it’s not just in your imagination.
Products aimed at women and girls do cost more, on average—whether we’re talking about toys, deodorant, or denim jeans.
It’s called the “pink tax,” and it’s yet another burden women and girls face in a world with deeply entrenched gender bias.
Check out DCP’s newest offering: Tigress, a podcast hosted by mental and menstrual health firebrand Nadya Okamoto.
Gender-based pricing can be easy to miss, especially if you’re not in the habit of scrutinizing price tags. But odds are you’ve seen it firsthand.
It’s the sign in the salon window advertising wildly different prices for men’s and women’s haircuts. Or the exorbitant price tags on so many personal care products marketed to women.
A lifetime of paying more
Gender-based pricing is nothing new. For decades studies have shown that women are charged more than men are for similar products—in some cases, for virtually identical items made by the same manufacturer.
A 2015 study from the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that, on average, women pay 7 percent more than men for similar products. The study compared the prices of more than 800 products with clear male and female versions. Here’s what they found:
Across all five industries they examined, products intended for women and girls cost 7 percent more on average than similar products intended for men and boys.
Women paid 8 percent more for adult clothing, 7 percent more for toys and accessories, 4 percent more for children’s clothing, 8 percent more for senior/home health care products, and 13 percent more for personal care products.
Across the sample, women’s products cost more 42 percent of the time, compared to 18 percent of the time for men.
These upcharges add up to more than $1,300 a year—money that could be going toward savings or retirement.
Over a lifetime, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars. By the time a woman reaches age 50, she will have paid roughly $67,000 more (in today’s dollars) for products and services than her male counterparts.
The problem goes beyond personal care products. Women also pay more for a host of services, from haircuts to dry cleaning to auto maintenance.
And they’re charged more for big-ticket items, like used cars and homes, with women of color being the hardest hit. A 2019 study found that women in 25 states are paying more for car insurance than men, despite being safer drivers.
CBS News decided to put the claim that women pay more for services than men to the test. They sent two of their staff members—a man and a woman—to several New York City dry cleaners with the exact same white cotton button-up shirt.
The result: More than half of the dry cleaners charged the woman twice or even three times as much to clean the shirt.
The “tampon tax”
As if the pink tax weren’t infuriating enough, women also face the so-called “tampon tax,” a sales tax applied to feminine hygiene products like pads, tampons, and period cups.
Twenty-seven states still apply sales tax to these menstrual necessities, according to Period Equity, a legal organization that advocates for menstrual equity.
The tampon tax is often referred to as a “luxury tax,” but this is nonsense. These products are essential. Making them more expensive through taxation only increases the financial burden on low-income women.
Women spend an average of $9 a month on menstrual necessities. It may not sound like much—unless you’re one of the thousands of women and girls who skip work or school every month because you can’t afford menstrual products.
A household with two, three, or more family members who use menstrual hygiene products can easily spend $50 a month or more.
Women shouldn’t have to struggle to access these essentials, and no girl should have to deal with period poverty.
The gender pay gap
Compounding these issues is the fact that women still—in 2021—earn less than men for the same work.
White women in the United States make 79 cents for every dollar a (non-Hispanic) white man makes. The numbers are much worse for women of color. Compared to white men, Black women earn 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women earn just 55 cents.
This means the pink tax and tampon tax disproportionately impact women of color.
Axing the pink tax
How do we fix this?
Like so many issues, the pink tax is hidden in plain view. It’s not easy to identify gender-based pricing.
Thankfully, some lawmakers are working to change this. Several states have passed laws against discriminatory gender-based pricing for products and services.
California, for example, implemented the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, requiring merchants to charge the same price for services like haircuts and clothing alterations that take the same time, skill, and cost to provide.
Congressional representative Jackie Speier of California (who was a state assemblymember at the time) was behind the bill and has been championing the cause ever since.
In 2016, Speier introduced a Pink Tax Repeal Act at the federal level. The bill didn’t pass, but the fight continues.
While 23 states currently exempt menstrual products from sales tax, most still tax women for products that—as one New York City councilwoman put it—are “as necessary as toilet paper.”
Activists and lawmakers are also fighting to improve access to feminine hygiene products in schools and prisons.
Currently, just five states have mandates requiring menstrual products be provided free in schools, and few states require or ensure adequate access to menstrual products in correctional facilities. On the plus side, a 2017 law mandates that every woman incarcerated in federal prison is entitled to receive menstrual products at no cost.
What you can do
There’s no easy solution to the sneaky “pink tax” problem, but here’s what you can do:
Shop for gender-neutral products or those targeted to men. This can help you avoid overpriced “female” personal care products like shampoo, bodywash, shaving cream, and even laxatives.
If you see a price discrepancy, say something. Contact the manufacturer and call out brands on social media that continue discriminatory gender-based pricing.
Together, we can create a more equitable world for women and girls.
Want more great content?
Check out the Tigress podcast hosted by Nadya Okamoto—a fearless champion for menstrual equity and mental health. Nadya muses about where she’s been, where she’s going, and how she’s learning to channel her inner tigress.