Yes, the Pink Tax Is Real. Here's How to Avoid It
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." It 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 fight the pink tax and save money.
What Is the Pink Tax?
The "pink tax" is a markup on products that are marketed to women, while men pay less for similar or the same products. Sometimes the only difference is the color of the product, with a pink item being marketed toward women, while the exact same item in blue, black, or grey is marketed toward men.
The fact that there's no real difference between products in these cases shows how simply purchasing something "designed" for women can be more costly than opting for items made "for" men.
While the pink tax as a whole doesn't really refer to actual taxes, there's one instance where it does, and that's import tariffs. Women's products, especially clothing, are often subjected to higher tariffs than the same items for men. But we'll cover that more in-depth below.
Is the Pink Tax Real?
The pink tax is not a myth — it's very real and continues to be a major issue for consumers. In 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a study of almost 800 products. Their findings detailed that women's products cost more than men's 42% of the time. Yet by comparison, men's products are more expensive than women's only 18% of the time. In fact, women's items tend to be an average of 7% more expensive than similar products marketed toward men.
Sometimes these price discrepancies seem to make sense, at least on the surface. For example, some products noted as "for women" may have more ingredients in general or might use components that are more expensive than their "male" counterparts. It could even come down to different materials or designs being better suited for women than men for whatever reason. Still other times, it's simply the color that's different. In some cases, there appears to be nothing different at all.
The Pink Tax Affects Multiple Categories
Personal Care Products and Toys
The Department of Consumer Affairs study found the biggest price difference in personal care products, which cost 13% more on average 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.
This trend continues even today. At the time of this writing, a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe in the traditional red and yellow came in around $47 at a major retailer. By comparison, the same store had the Little Tikes Princess Cozy Coupe in magenta priced at $54.99. Another major retailer had a tricycle for kids aged 15 to 36 months available in four different colors: blue, red, multicolored, and pink. The regular price for this item was $93.99, but all colors were on sale. Even so, every color except pink was priced at $69.99, while the pink one was $73.99.
This issue doesn't stop at store shelves. The "gender tax" for services can add up to thousands of dollars for women. A figure that's often quoted is that women pay $1,351 more per year than men for similar products and services. Yet, chances are this is no longer true. As noted by Investopedia, that figure comes from an analysis performed in 1994, but that figure is still quoted as if it's true today. However, factors like inflation, changes in supply and demand, and even marketing campaigns to support genderless products have all likely impacted pricing over the last three decades.
Mortgages and Import Tariffs
Women are also more likely to be denied mortgages or charged higher interest rates when they get them. That's according to a report from the Urban Institute. And it turns out that import tariffs are higher on women's products in many cases, in comparison to men's. Clothing companies reportedly pay more for women's items like silk shirts, wool jackets, cotton suits, suit jackets, and blazers, among other products. While there are clothing items for men that have higher import tariffs — such as cotton shirts, wool suits, and swimwear — the ones imposed on women's clothing overall are noted as being higher.
In short, it can be expensive to be a woman.
It's Not As Simple As It May Seem
A lot of information about the pink tax can end up oversimplifying the issue, especially when it comes to things like services. For example, it's been reported that women pay 40% more for haircuts compared to men, but that leaves out certain nuances. In many cases, women may want a more complicated cut than a man, and their cut may also include services like a wash and blow-dry, where the men's cut may just include a wash and simple cut. Women also tend to visit their stylists less often unless they're trying to maintain a specific style or color; men may visit on a more regular basis to keep their hair short and neat.
This isn't always the case, but it's a good idea to keep in mind whenever the price discrepancies are significant. There may be more to gendered pricing differences than simply, well, gender. One recent study tackles the subject in such a way as to consider prices, markups, and margins of the entire range of goods purchased by men and women in order to address these other components.
What Does the Pink Tax Cost?
The Pink Tax Varies Wildly
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 exist, the place you shop may be more important. That applies especially to 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.
|Store||Price Per Women's Razor Refill||Price Per Men's Razor Refill|
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 price points — and prices are almost always the same, whether the cartridges are branded for women or men.
- Billie: $2.50/ea for women
- Harry's/Flamingo: $2.50/ea for women and men
- Dollar Shave Club: $2.50/ea (6-blade), $2.13/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 AmazonBasics razor, you can get refills for $1.49 each for men or $2.68 each for women, for example.
Buying razors on a monthly subscription can net you an additional discount — up to 15% off with Amazon's Subscribe & Save program and 4% 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 56% more for women than for men, according to one 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 21% to 63% 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.
|Store||Herbal Essences Price/Oz.||Old Spice Price/Oz.||Pantene Price/Oz.|
Online razor subscription companies have been offering more personal care products, including shampoos in recent years. 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: $0.44/oz. for men
It's important to note the difference in marketing for men's shampoo versus that marketed to women. Mainly, men's hair products are typically called 2-in-1 for combo shampoo and conditioner. Yet when it comes to shampoo and conditioner marketed towards women, most often they're separate items, which means women are paying for two products rather than just one like men.
For body wash, we looked at a product line that's 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 about 24% more.
|Store||Dove Deep Moisture Price/Oz.||Dove Men+Care Price/Oz.|
Again, body wash is a product we've seen many shave subscription companies offer, as well. 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: $0.47/oz. for men
- Dollar Shave Club: $0.47/oz. for men
Clothing is a little difficult to compare. 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 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 as much as $108, men's topped out at only $89.50.
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 can range from $59.50 to $385 for women and from $59.50 to $325 for men. And even in the 501 line, there are women's (and men's) jeans that cost less than $98 and $89.50, respectively. This is especially true if you shop during a sale when you can save between 30% and 50% off, depending on the style.
When it comes to other retailers, the price ranges can be pretty wide, too. For example, we took a look at American Eagle Outfitters, Gap, Lucky Brand, Target, and Walmart. Here's what we found:
|Store||Price Range for Women's Jeans||Price Range for Men's Jeans|
|American Eagle Outfitters||$40-$138||$40-$138|
However, Gap fell into the apparent pink tax trap. Women's jeans there regularly started at around $80 and went as high as $98, whereas men's Gap jeans started at $60. That said, men's jeans also had a max price of around $99.
We should note that these are pretty broad price ranges. And even with the higher-end ones, sales often drop the prices to much more affordable levels. 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 the aforementioned 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.
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.
Retailers and States Are Fighting Back
California Bans Gender-Based Pricing
Recently, California took major steps to help consumers by passing a law that states businesses can't charge higher prices for items marketed towards women. Basically, two products that are "substantially similar" can't be priced differently just because they're marketed towards different genders. This includes products that have no substantial difference in materials used, if the intended use is similar, functional design and features are similar, and the brand is the same or both brands are owned by the same parent company.
CVS Drops Prices on Menstrual Products
It's been argued that part of the pink tax problem is that consumers pay sales tax on period products like menstrual pads and tampons. Yet most rational people consider these necessities, not the "luxury items" they're sometimes classed as. CVS is taking steps to make it easier to purchase these items, to some degree.
In 12 states, CVS has said it will pay customers' sales tax on select period and feminine hygiene products. The company also announced it'd be dropping the prices on CVS-branded period products by 25%.
Boxed Has a Rethink Pink Initiative
To help balance the scales, Boxed offers select items that are pink tax free. This goes beyond things like menstrual products, too, though you'll find brands like Always, Tampax, and Poise included. You'll also find Dove body washes being sold without the pink tax markup and even things like TENA overnight pads.
Billie Offers a Pink Tax Rebate
Billie's offering is basically a referral program, but the good news is that it works a bit differently than others. Often referral programs require that a person signs up using your unique link and then also purchases something before you receive your reward. In the case of Billie's program, you enter your email to have a referral link generated. Then you share that link, and when they enter their own emails to sign up, you'll receive a coupon to spend on your next purchase. Coupons vary in value, but can be up to $20 depending on the number of referrals you procure.
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!