Not So “Pretty in Pink”: The Pink Tax

Here’s a very disturbing fact to still be talking about in the 21st century: Women are charged more when shopping for some items even when they are the same items as men’s. An actual 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office found that women paid more for 42% of the nearly 800 products they surveyed! Let me repeat that one: 42%! And in 2019, it isn’t any different.

The pink tax, where women are charged more for products simply because they are women, is completely unfair. Here's what you need to know to fight back.

Even though the survey was four years ago, things have actually gotten worse. Manufacturers and retailers know that they can take advantage of this phenomenon and although it may seem like a silly little thing, the pink tax is very real.

On average, women pay 7% more for items marketed to them. The largest disparity is in personal care products where products for women cost about 13% more than those for men. Marketing is a big part of it as these products are made to seem as if they are really better in some way for women than the “male” equivalent. That’s not always true.

For Women and Girls Only (Aren’t You Special?)

It’s called the “pink tax”—named after the color often associated with girls. And while paying a few dollars more for things may not seem like a big deal, the cost difference adds up. Twenty five years ago, the state of California estimated that women spent $1,350 extra (about $2,350 in today’s dollars) over the course of a year because of the pink tax.

The pink tax as a phenomenon is a real form of gender-based price discrimination and not just only for women but for girls, too. This is not a literal tax, but a broad tendency for products marketed specifically toward women and girls to be more expensive than those marketed to men and boys.

Some typical examples include girls’ clothing about 4% more, girls’ toys and accessories about 7% more, women’s clothing about 8% more, and women’s personal care products about 13% more.

That means women are paying more for tons of everyday goods like razors, shampoo, and lotion. And let’s not forget tampons, which are taxed as luxury goods in nearly 40 states. A woman’s entire wardrobe, from items like socks (3% more expensive for women) to shirts (15% more expensive for women) costs more than a man’s.

And then there’s services such as dry cleaning and haircuts which are almost always more expensive for women and girls.

Trying to Beat the System That Steals from You Every Day

Being aware of the pink tax is the first step to avoiding it. Whenever you’re buying something that’s marketed specifically to women, do a quick price check. Is there a gender-neutral product (or a product for men) that costs less? Look at the price, as well as the unit count and weight, so you’re comparing apples to apples.

Make sure you also compare prices at different stores, too. Some retailers are starting to change this practice and have parity in gender pricing.

There are some good options for personal care products like razors, shampoo, deodorant, and lotion, which are often very similar no matter who they’re marketed to. Though they may come in different scents, if you look just at the ingredients in your favorite products, you’re likely to find alternatives with similar or the same ingredients for less. If you don’t care for masculine scents, you can usually find an unscented option.

Children’s Items Where They Try to Zing You

We tend to spend on our kids freely and here’s a spot where the pink tax can fly way under the radar.

Children’s clothing and toys top the list, but the good news is that they are also an easy place to save you from the “tax”.

The most common way you can save is by color. When you’re shopping for your kids, look for gender-neutral options and steer away from anything bright pink. While this strategy may only save you a dollar or two each time you shop, those savings add up over the course of time and it only takes a quick walk down the aisle to view your color options.

Switch and Save?

Unfortunately, buying a different product just isn’t an option for everything you purchase. Men’s clothes fit differently than women’s clothes and there aren’t really comparable alternatives for feminine personal hygiene products or makeup. In this case, your best bet is traditional bargain hunting. Watch for sales and avoid paying full price whenever you can.

The Law, Lawmakers, and Retailers Are Starting to Step Up

Women have been pushing back on these high-priced products, encouraging retailers and legislators alike to address the pink tax. A California law prevents services from being priced differently for different genders and more items are being added to this same pricing protection all the time.

Bills are currently being considered in some states that would eliminate taxes on feminine hygiene products. There have even been attempts at class action suits pending in Ohio which seek $11 million in tax refunds for women because of the “tampon tax”. There’s no certainty proposed bills will become law, but calling your representatives to ask for their support can help make your voice heard.

How You Can Outsmart and Avoid the Pink Tax

1. Shop Around

Some businesses charge more for services, like dry cleaning women’s clothing or haircuts, and some don’t. Shop around for the fairest deal.

2. Buy Men’s Products

Often, the only difference between a pink and blue razor is the color. Check out the men’s aisle to compare. For personal care items, the men’s versions often use a different fragrance or are unscented.

3. Order Online

Try companies like Billie, a monthly razor subscription, and Boxed, a bulk retailer, that absorb the cost of the pink tax as they feature gender-neutral pricing for customers.

Final Thoughts

If you are a woman, you probably already know all about the pink tax even if you didn’t just read this post. But the real question is what can you do about it and what are you doing about it? If you make the effort, you can work around this very unfair way of making you pay extra for things.

Does it bother you to pay for those little feminine extras that are actually just ways to make extra money for some big company? Do you avoid those items or just acquiesce? What will you do about those things from now on?

6 Comments

  1. It surprises me that the pink tax even exists these days. There’s no real difference in the chemical composition of most cosmetic items that are marketed to men and women separately so it doesn’t make sense to price them higher. One impressive hack I recently read about was related to feminine products that were excessively taxed in a certain country. Somebody made a book and put those products inside it, and avoided the higher tax because the tax on books was around half the tax on the feminine products. That book was sold out within 24 hours of its release.

    1. Wow, Fehmeen! Talk about being creative…that really says it all. You hit on it exactly about the unfairness involved here. The only explanation is that retail marketing has continued to coerce feminine consumers by doing their job all too well. Hopefully, as awareness of the problem grows, consumers will force manufacturers to stop this unfair practice. Thanks so much for your comment.

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