When she’s shopping for period-relief products, Alicia Kellebrew buys generic-brand Excedrin Migraine instead of Midol. “It’s almost the same stuff, and it’s cheaper,” the financial counselor says.
She also notices a gender difference when she’s working with clients on their budgets at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo. She says most female clients spend more on toiletries, cosmetics and personal-care services than their male counterparts.
But like the Midol, many products geared toward women cost more than similar products geared toward men. It’s a pricing practice called the “pink tax” or sometimes the “gender tax” that’s been gaining increasing attention in the past year, spurred by the results of a new study released by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.
The DCA compared over 800 pairs of items, including razors, shaving cream, shampoo, soaps and lotions, across the New York metropolitan area and found that 42 percent of the time, goods marketed to women cost more than similar men’s versions.
Erienne Fawcett, assistant director of women and gender studies at North Dakota State University, asks her Intro to Women’s Studies students to tally up the yearly cost of their daily hygiene/beauty routines, take a photo of the products they use and share their results on Twitter.
The differences, both in the number of products they use and in yearly costs, are dramatic.
“Men have maybe three or four items, and that’s it,” she says. “But we see huge amounts of products for women. Sometimes you even see a few mascaras — one’s for lengthening, one’s for making fuller lashes — well, these are all things that most men don’t have in their photos.”
The problem extends beyond toiletries. The DCA study also compared services such as dry cleaning, haircuts and car repairs and toys such as scooters, helmets, dolls and video games.
According to Pink.tax, some states and municipalities, including California, New York City and Florida’s Miami-Dade County, have passed laws banning gender-based discrimination in the pricing of services, but not retail goods. There are no federal laws banning it in services or goods sold by private companies.
Julie Menin, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, explained the change in a Time magazine interview: “Today, if you go into a hair salon in New York City, they can’t have two prices for men and women. The fee must reflect actual variations in labor — so long hair has one price and short hair has another.”
Kandace Creel Falcón, director of Minnesota State University Moorhead’s women and gender studies department, wonders why similar practices aren’t in place in Fargo-Moorhead salons, where she first noticed gendered pricing differences. She pays more for her haircut than her wife, she says.
“I have very short hair, and my wife also has very short hair,” she explains, “but my hairstylist charges her the men’s cut price, which is about $10 to $12 less than the women’s haircut price.”
She’s also aware that her more feminine wardrobe costs more than her wife’s masculine one.
“That’s certainly something that I’ve thought a lot about, over the course of my lifetime, actually, in terms of the accumulated effect of how much more it costs to dress my body in the way that I’d like to than the contrasting men’s fashion,” she says.
Hannah Sorensen, a financial associate with Thrivent Financial, agrees that women’s clothing, especially women’s business attire, typically costs more than men’s, adding that women are expected to have more variety in their closets than men, which contributes to the problem.
“A man could wear the same black suit several days in a row and no one would notice,” she says. “A woman couldn’t.”
The women interviewed for this story all say the gender wage gap underscores the pink tax.
“The real danger, of course, is when we think about the pay equity gap and the pink tax coming together, we illuminate how women end up paying the price economically over the course of their lifetimes,” Creel Falcón says.
Aside from pushing for more legislation, campaigns like Pink.tax, launched by a trade lawyer on International Women’s Day 2016, encourage women to spread the word, write to retailers and brands, and “shop outside the aisle.”
For example, Sorensen often buys men’s products because she prefers unscented products, and they’re the only ones without scent. Fawcett uses men’s razors. “I typically find them to be less expensive, but they also don’t have the frou-frou, all the extra ‘stuff,’ ” she says. “I just want to shave.”