The pink tax: it’s probably affecting you right now without you even realising it. Even in the 21st century, women are at a fairly large economic disadvantage compared to men. Not only are women paid less across fields ranging from the theatre to the tech industry, they are often charged unjustified higher interest rates on mortgage loans. So why are we even surprised to learn about the pink tax – another consequence of being a woman?
The pink tax is the invisible cost women pay for purchasing products that are marketed specifically to them.
While “pink tax” may sound cliché, it’s actually quite apt to quantify the extra amount that women have to pay for everyday necessities. If you walk into any department store, it’s not a surprise to find a clear segregation between male and female products. The biggest difference between the near-identical products is that the women’s is packaged in pink, has a smaller quantity or size and —oh— is always more expensive. No exceptions. This “tax” spans a woman’s entire life, from girls’ toys, braces, and school uniforms to haircuts, razors, shampoo, and clothes.
Individual product prices may seem insignificant — say, $4.55 vs $4.75 for a regular deodorant — but over time these little pieces add up to ridiculous differences. In 2015, the New York Department of Consumer Affairs released a study, “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer.” The study compared the prices of 800 products and concluded that women’s products cost 7% more than the identical male version. When it came to personal care products, the numbers were as high as 13%.
It’s not just the 20 cents worth of deodorant. Small, incremental expenses add up. Over the course of their lifetimes, women accumulate enormous costs that men don’t have to pay. What are governments doing about it? Not much! Currently no national or international law prohibits companies from charging people different prices by gender for identical items.
The economic impact of the pink tax is that women must either settle for products not designed for them, or coupled with the gender-based pay gap, have less purchasing power than men, who hold majority purchasing power in an economy.
So no, the government isn’t doing anything to spare women the pink tax, but what about the others involved: are industries taking some initiative? Are individuals trying to make a change?
Which brands are fighting the pink tax?
In 2016, the online wholesaler company Boxed adjusted their prices to account for the pink tax. “Our team took a hard look at some of the products offered on Boxed and realized that many female products cost significantly more than their male equivalents,” states Boxed CEO and founder Chieh Huang. “This just didn’t make sense to our team, and we immediately decided this was an issue we wanted to help bring to the forefront and take action.” The company is the first of its kind to recognise their actions and actively raise awareness. They created a “pink tax free” section, listing products, from tampons to body wash, discounted to gender neutral prices.
A subscription razor company, Billie, offers a referral discount, releasing the public statement, “On behalf of the razor companies out there, we’re sorry you’ve been overpaying for pink razors. It’s time you got some money back.”
How do I avoid paying the pink tax?
You don’t. You just shop smart.
The easiest way is to shop while comparing. Check out the men’s versions of personal care products — chances are you’ll end up paying less for products of similar, or probably even better, quality.
Another way is to not fall for pretty packaging in an attractive shade of pink. Advertisers do a pretty good job in making those extra bucks off aesthetic appeal. Go for the generic version, especially if the difference in product quality is negligible.
Also, look out for stores that offer unisex services.
Like in every good argument, there are two distinct sides. One argues for rules against the pink tax, claiming it unfairly burdens women and amounts to price discrimination – requiring the government to change laws. The other side believes that the higher cost is a result of the invisible hand in the free market, in which higher demand and higher production costs lead to higher market prices.
A 2016 report from the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee, “The Pink Tax: How Gender-Based Pricing Hurts Women’s Buying Power” noted instances where manufacturing costs differ between seemingly similar products for legitimate reasons. This adds to the argument that the gender price gap is more often an issue of women individually choosing to buy more expensive products.
Liz Grauerholz, co-author of a 2011 study on gender-based disparity “The Cost of Doing Femininity: Gendered Disparities in Pricing of Personal Care Products and Services,” concluded that this gender price gap is most likely a result of both economic and cultural influences.
What this implies is that it’s not all dollars and cents. It’s a lot more. The pink tax is a reflection of the differences in the upbringings of girls and boys, and what we value as a society.
“Culturally speaking, women are under far greater pressure to conform to appearance norms – to look ‘put together,’ wear make-up, wear certain types of clothes, and so on. Corporations know this and market heavily to women, especially around personal care products and services, which may drive up costs and demand for these products,” according to Grauerholz.
While some might argue that there are no differences between men and women, it seems that culturally instilled gender norms and marketing have conspired to artificially widen the chasm, which, perhaps not surprisingly, tends to benefit businesses.
So it’s us. All of us are responsible as part of this capitalistic society. No single retail corporation forced women into spending more on appearance. Corporations are simply trying to maximise their profits under the present conditions that allow them to do so. The “Pink tax” stems from our society where (in general), when it comes to appearances, the female gender is held to a higher standard. A social experiment by Australian TV anchor Karl Stefanovic really drives the point home. For an entire year, he wore the same blue suit to work. While no one noticed his suit, his female co-hosts were the centre of attention when it came to viewers’ criticism for wearing anything on the spectrum from too boring to too inappropriate.
Turns out that maybe both sides of the argument aren’t black and white. To win the battle, we need to fight two wars — changing legislation to bring about more favourable economic conditions and changing the norms we value as a society.
It’s in your and my hands to make a difference. So what are we going to do about this?