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Pink Tax Makes Women See Red

Some women’s products already cost more before inflation soared

A side-by-side comparison of a black disposable men's razor priced at .45 cents next to the same women's razor in pink priced at .65 cents.
iStock / Getty Images

If you think you pay more for a haircut, dry cleaning and health care just because you’re a woman, you aren’t wrong. The so-called pink tax is alive and kicking, made worse by inflation, which hit a 40-year high in March. Prices for consumer goods excluding food and energy are up 6.5 percent year over year since then.

“The pink tax is real, it’s significant, and only a few states have taken action,” says Democratic state Sen. Derek Slap of Connecticut. “It’s not a new issue, but it’s only gotten worse. It’s an issue that costs women, on average, more than $1,500 a year.”  

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The situation is exacerbated by the income disparity between women and men. Not only are women paying more for consumer products and services, but they are also getting paid less.

A white woman makes 82 cents for every $1 a white man makes. For Black women, it’s 79 cents for every $1, and for Hispanic women, it’s 78 cents, according to Payscale, a research firm that tracks salaries. “They are already getting paid less and have the challenge of paying more for a product that should be the same across gender,” says Judit Arenas, senior director and senior adviser at consulting firm APCO Worldwide.

Women pay up for pretty packaging

For years, women have been penalized for their femininity when it comes to goods and services they consume. Razors, deodorant, body lotion, shampoo and other day-to-day items packaged in pink materials and marketed to women are typically more expensive than the same products aimed at men. Gender becomes the focus, instead of the features the product provides. 

A study conducted in 2015 by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs underscored the problem, leading the state to institute a law banning businesses from gender-based discrimination in pricing. Among its findings:  

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  • Female toys and accessories cost 7 percent more
  • Clothing designed for girls and women was 4 percent and 8 percent higher, respectively
  • Personal-care products were 13 percent more expensive
  • Home and health care products aimed at older women were priced 8 percent higher

This difference is also prevalent in the services industry, with women paying more for haircuts and dry cleaning. In some instances, the markup is between 20 and 40 percent. 

Despite price discrimination, Slap says that New York and California are the only two states with laws on the books to protect female consumers. Change on the federal level has been slow, too. “A bill to abolish or repeal the gender tax keeps dying in Congress,” says Slap, who introduced legislation in the Connecticut Senate this session to do away with gender-based pricing. It didn’t pass the House, but Slap plans to reintroduce it next year, with a focus on service providers, instead of manufacturers. “It’s more difficult to regulate the markup [of goods]. A better strategy next year is to start with haircuts and dry cleaners,” he says. ​

Health care is another category in which there’s a wide gap between what men and women pay, made worse in an inflationary environment. “Women live longer and require more care than men,” Arenas says. “Add to that they require mammograms, pap tests and more clinical services.” A Kaiser Family Foundation study from 2015 revealed that women between the ages of 55 and 64 spent $9,489 on health care; men spent $7,850.  

Arenas says women are more likely than men to blow off preventive services, which leads to more chronic conditions and more money spent on medical care. “It’s a big concern after the pandemic. Women delayed preventive services, and with inflation we may see another wave,” she says. 

What women can do 

The pink tax and inflation aren’t going away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean women can’t fight back. After all, they are a powerful group of consumers whom marketers spend top dollar courting each year.  

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To avoid the pink tax, female shoppers need to become more discerning. That means getting educated about pricing disparities and going out of their way to find the best product for the price, regardless of the packaging. It also means speaking up if they spot unfair pricing. Complaining on social media, as well as to consumer associations, local politicians and to the company, is a powerful way to express displeasure. “Individual consumption behavior can send a signal to manufacturers,” Arenas says.

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