A tax is a mandatory financial contribution that may be added to goods, services, and transactions. While many taxes are legal and collected indiscriminately by state and federal governments, gender-based price discrimination leaves half of the population paying more for goods and services than the other half.
The pink tax is the phenomenon wherein products marketed towards women — which are often pink — cost more than those marketed towards men. The entire scope of the pink tax goes beyond the color of certain products. A study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs revealed that products with marketing aimed towards women was on average seven percent more than those marketed towards men.
White women still earn 86 percent of what white men earn in America earn on average — and women who are racial and ethnic minorities earn even less. In spite of this gap, the financial chasm continues to widen as women are charged more money for similar or identical goods and services. Product discrimination is a primary reason why women are up-charged for many products. One reason given to justify the price difference is that women’s products are listed as being special edition. This model assumes that products marketed towards men are the standard, and anything that goes beyond that model is a deviation.
Retailers also spend more money on their advertising budget advertising to men than they do advertising to women. To offset the cost, companies often sell the products advertised at a higher markup. If that sounds wildly unfair, it’s because it is — companies campaign to make women feel like they’re missing something, then make them pay extra after creating the sense of lack.
Women’s personal care products cost more than men’s 56 percent of the time, according to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. Women pay an average of 13 percent more than men for products such as deodorant, body wash and lotion. Alberto VO5 sells a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner for women at a higher cost than a 3-in-1 product for men that also can be used as a body wash.
One of the most popular symbols of the pink tax are shaving materials since the marketing of shaving products for women is frequently sold at a higher cost than those for men. This has prompted online retailers to acknowledge the difference and sell gender neutral products at a rate significantly lower than women’s products.
Old Navy charged customers more for women's plus-size jeans than their standard sizes. However, men’s plus-size jeans were sold at the same price as the standard size for men. On average, women’s shirts cost 15 percent more than men’s shirts. Even when men’s clothing is larger and requires more fabric, women’s clothing is still often sold at a higher price — an average mark up of eight percent. The study provides examples from Levi’s where the 501 CT style of jeans for women was sold for $88 while the same style of jeans for men were sold for $68.
Pink toys that are marketed as being for girls are often sold at a higher cost than those that are marketed as being for boys. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs study revealed that toys marketed towards girls costs more than toys marketed towards boys over half of the time. One particularly striking example provided in the study was the discrepancy between the costs of Radio Flyer scooters sold at Target. The Girls My 1st Scooter costs double the cost of the scooter that comes in red.
Unfortunately, the pink tax remains a constant throughout all age groups. Products for senior care still carry a discrepancy between genders that favors men. Assistive devices such as braces and canes are marked up approximately 12-15 percent for women. Other products such as adult diapers and compression socks are also sold at a higher price for women. The largest discrepancy was found in the price of personal urinals, which are sold at a 20 percent price increase for women.
Women are frequently charged a higher cost than men are for personal care products, but the discrepancy is particularly high when related to hair care. Many salons offer different prices for men and women for the same service. For example, some salons advertise haircuts for men at a range of $45 - $60 while a haircut for women is advertised at $50 - $85. While services such as color and perms may have prices set depending on hair length, costs for cuts are often based on gender, so a woman with a buzzcut can spend more money on a haircut than a man with shoulder length hair at the same salon.
Certain machinery being built with men’s bodies in mind also leaves women paying an extra cost when it comes to dry cleaning. Because pressing machines, which are typically used, are more difficult to use on women’s clothing, women are frequently charged more money since their items are hand-pressed as an alternative. The California Assembly's Office of Research conducted a study that found women were charged more money to have identical items of clothing cleaned by 60 percent of launders.
Currently, there is no federal law that prohibits price discrimination based on gender. Though there are no laws that address the pink tax specifically, some action has been taken to address services costs. The Unruh Civil Rights act was passed in 1995 by California to protect against gender-based price discrimination by protecting consumers from being charged different prices for the same services.
In recent years there has been a move to keep feminine hygiene products from being taxed. The government profits off of a condition that half of the population experiences at some point. In 2016, U.S. House of Representatives member Jackie Spire introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act to the House floor, and she introduced a revised version two years later.
Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon do not have a state sales tax for any goods. In addition to these states, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania exempt the taxation of feminine hygiene products on the basis that they are considered to be medical products. Aside from these examples, all states in the U.S. do not allow feminine hygiene products to be exempt from sales tax.
Though some states have enacted this legislation, there are no federal mandates that protect such goods from being taxed. Menstruation products are taxed because they are considered to be a luxury good and not a necessity. Items that are considered to be necessities in the United States include certain clothing, prescription medicines and agricultural goods. Dandruff shampoo can receive a tax exemption because its use to treat psoriasis is considered to be a treatment for disease while feminine hygiene products are not.
By working to avoid gender norms, the pink tax can in part be eradicated. This is especially true in the raising of children. Promoting a variety of different toys to children instead of only offering them toys that are marketed towards their gender will help the division between men’s and women’s products continue to fade away over time.
Individually, the pink tax can be avoided, in part, when women buy specifically gender neutral or men’s products. Purchasing goods that don’t require services such as dry cleaning or alterations can also help avoid the pink tax in the future. To make changes in the long run, speaking to representatives and voicing discontent publicly to businesses may help do away with the pink tax.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.