Is the Pink Tax a Myth?
Is the pink tax still a problem for shoppers? Over the last few years, we've seen retailers like Boxed and Billie take a stand against discriminatory product pricing that costs women more. That's the so-called "pink tax," which refers to the difference between products designed for (and marketed to) women, and products that are gender-neutral or designed for men.
But the outcry against gender-based price discrimination has slowed. So is the pink tax a real problem still? We took a look at pricing for some common items to see whether women are still getting charged more — and how they can save money.
Is the Pink Tax a Myth?
The pink tax isn't a myth, and unfortunately it remains an issue. Price differences like this can be extremely common: in a study that compared nearly 800 products, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that women's products cost more than men's 42% of the time, while men's products are pricier than women's only 18% of the time. On average, women's items are 7% more expensive than similar ones for men.
Sometimes these price variations can be explained by differences in the product itself. Pricier products for women could have more (or more expensive) ingredients, be made of different materials, or have a different design. But sometimes it's hard to pinpoint any difference at all.
The Department of Consumer Affairs study found the biggest price difference in personal care products, which cost an average of 13% more for women. But price differences go beyond beauty: we see gender-based pricing starting in childhood. The DCA study found children's toys and accessories were also, on average, 7% more expensive if shoppers bought products for girls. In one notable example, a toy scooter was $25 in red or $50 in pink, with no notable difference beyond the coloring.
And it doesn't stop at store shelves. The "gender tax" for services can add up to an estimated $1,300 per year for women. For example, a University of Central Florida study found that women pay 54% more for haircuts and 92% more to dry-clean their shirts.
Women are also more likely to be denied mortgages or charged higher interest rates when they get them, according to a report from the Urban Institute. And taxes and tariffs can be unevenly applied to products for men and women, which can result in women paying more.
In short, it can be expensive to be a woman.
What Does the Pink Tax Cost?
The cost difference between products marketed toward women and ones marketed toward men (or marketed in a gender-neutral way) varies wildly depending on the product, the brand, and where you're shopping. And while price differences between products certainly exist, the place you shop may be more important — particularly for personal care products.
We looked at the prices of a number of different items at different retailers to see the real impact of the pink tax. In all cases, we attempted to find products that were as similar as possible — sometimes from the same manufacturer — and sold in the same-size packages to make an even comparison.
Razors come up a lot when talking about the pink tax, because it's pretty obvious when you see a package of blue razors that costs less than the package of pink razors next to them. We compared 5-blade razor refills from Gillette — the Venus Extra Smooth (or Extra Smooth Sensitive) for women and the Fusion5 (or ProGlide) for men, focusing on 4-packs of cartridges when available.
We found that the men's razors were cheaper across the board. However, as shown below, where you buy your razor results in a bigger price difference than which gender-branded option you pick.
- Amazon: $3.97/ea for women, $3.74/ea for men
- Costco: $3.18/ea for women, $3/ea for men
- CVS: $5.37/ea for women, $5.25/ea for men
- Target: $4.50/ea for women, $3.75/ea for men
- Walgreens: $6/ea for women, $5/ea for men
- Walmart: $4.49/ea for women, $3.74/ea for men
If you really want to save on razors, it's best to skip the standard stores. Online razor subscription services offer similar razors at much lower prices — and prices are almost always the same, whether the cartridges are branded for women or men.
- Billie: $2.25/ea for women
- Harry's/Flamingo: $2.25/ea for women and men
- Dollar Shave Club: $2.50/ea (6-blade), $1.75/ea (4-blade) for men
If you aren't concerned about brand, know that store brands can offer a bargain. With Amazon's house-brand Solimo razor, you could get five blades with refills at $1.25 each for men or $1.50 each for women.
Buying razors on a monthly subscription can net you an additional discount — up to 15% off with Amazon's Subscribe & Save program and 6% off with Harry's.
Shampoo and Conditioner
Hair care products are the biggest example of the pink tax on store shelves: they cost an average of 48% more for women than for men, according to the DCA study. To see what shoppers can actually expect to pay in stores today, we looked at three common drugstore brands of shampoo all made by Procter & Gamble: Herbal Essences Bio:Renew, which is marketed toward women; Old Spice Swagger 2-in-1, which is marketed toward men; and Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal, which is fairly gender-neutral.
In this small comparison, the Herbal Essences shampoo was anywhere from 42% to 76% more expensive than the Pantene shampoo. But our other gender-specific option, Old Spice, was also more expensive, though still not as expensive as Herbal Essences.
As with the razors, where you shop matters as much as what you buy.
- Amazon: $0.37/oz. (Herbal Essences), $0.26/oz. (Old Spice), $0.24/oz. (Pantene)
- CVS: $0.54/oz. (Herbal Essences), $0.52/oz. (Old Spice), $0.32/oz. (Pantene)
- Target: $0.44/oz. (Herbal Essences), $0.28/oz. (Old Spice), $0.25/oz. (Pantene)
- Walgreens: $0.44/oz. (Herbal Essences), $0.33/oz. (Old Spice), $0.31/oz. (Pantene)
- Walmart: $0.37/oz. (Herbal Essences), $0.28/oz. (Old Spice), $0.25/oz. (Pantene)
Recently, online razor subscription companies have been offering more personal care products, including shampoos. And since their razors are usually the most economical options, we thought we'd check their other products. However, these come at a definite price premium over the drugstore brands we looked at above; they're priced higher than almost any other option.
- Harry's 2 in 1 Shampoo & Conditioner: $0.50/oz. for men
- Dollar Shave Club 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner: $0.70/oz. for men
For body wash, we looked at a product line that's very specifically marketed toward men: Dove Men+Care. We compared prices of this to ordinary Dove body wash and found Men+Care was almost always more expensive. At best, Men+Care cost about the same as standard Dove, and at worst it cost almost 30% more.
- Amazon: $0.25/oz. (Dove), $0.24/oz. (Dove Men+Care)
- Boxed: $0.25/oz. (Dove Sensitive Skin)
- Costco: $0.22/oz. (Dove)
- CVS: $0.41/oz. (Dove), $0.47/oz. (Dove Men+Care)
- Target: $0.25/oz. (Dove), $0.30/oz. (Dove Men+Care)
- Walgreens: $0.34/oz. (Dove), $0.44/oz. (Dove Men+Care)
- Walmart: $0.25/oz. (Dove), $0.30/oz. (Dove Men+Care)
Again, body wash is a product we've seen many shave subscription companies start to offer. And just like with shampoo, buying body washes from these companies involves a price premium, whether they're branded for women or men.
- Billie: $0.75/oz. for women
- Harry's: $0.44/oz. for men
- Dollar Shave Club: From $0.60/oz. for men
Clothing is a little difficult to compare, because there can be vast differences in the materials, style, and construction of any garment — which means prices can be all over the map. In some cases, it's challenging to tell whether there's a pink tax or simply a significant difference between two products. But even if it's a product difference, women can find they have little choice but to buy pricier items, simply because of a lack of low-cost alternatives.
We looked for basics that were as similar as possible to make a comparison, starting with jeans. Even humble blue jeans have a lot of variation in style and cost between genders, but we checked out classic Levi's 501 Original Fit jeans, as the same style is available for both men and women. But while women's Original Fit 501s cost $69.50, men's cost only $59.50.
Though that price comparison shows a stark difference, in the real world you're very likely to find jeans at reasonable (or unreasonable) prices for either gender, as long as you look at different cuts or styles. Jeans from Levi's range from $31 to $298 for women and from $25 to $298 for men — and even in the 501 line, there are women's (and men's) jeans that cost less than $69.50 and $59.50, respectively.
You'll find similar price ranges at other retailers, too. We checked American Eagle Outfitters, Gap, Lucky Brand, Target, and Walmart, and found jean prices for both men and women started around $10 to $20, and the most expensive priced out at $198. But that's a pretty broad price range, with hundreds of different jeans to choose from. If they aren't tied to a specific style or cut, both men and women should be able to find a style they like at a price they can afford with enough browsing. (Or by waiting for sales.)
How to Avoid the Pink Tax
We're used to comparison shopping for big purchases, but the pink tax can be a big drain on the budget, in large part because it doesn't look like much at a glance. We might spend an extra dollar here, an extra quarter there, but it adds up.
SEE ALSO: Why Is It So Expensive to Be Overweight?
Next time you're out shopping, it's worth evaluating whether you're paying too much — particularly if you're buying products for (or marketed for) a particular gender. Here are our suggestions to save:
Avoid products marketed to either gender. They're almost always more expensive than the alternatives.
Switch to a different product, brand, or style. Don't support brands that overprice women's (or men's) products.
Shop somewhere else. You may find large price differences between your local stores, particularly on personal care products.
Consider a subscription. Razor subscriptions are across-the-board more economical than buying razors, and Amazon discounts many products with a subscription purchase.
Readers, do you think the pink tax is still a problem? What examples of the pink tax have you found in your day-to-day shopping? Let us know in the comments below!