The Pink Tax: Why Women Pay More Than Men For Similar Products

Let's face it: It's expensive to be a woman.

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Being a woman is pricey. Besides all the products that only women are told they need (think bras, jewelry, and cosmetics), it turns out they have the odds stacked against them when it comes to saving money on any product. The truth is, products that are targeted towards women are often more expensive than products for men…even when the products are nearly identical. Women are charged more for the same stuff. If you think this is a bunch of sexist bologna, you’re not alone. Read on to find out why the price gouging occurs, the ways sellers target women, the products women will pay the most for…and how they can save money in spite of this.

The Pink Tax

Frustrated by higher prices, ladies? Well, you can thank a little something called the “Pink Tax.” According to USA Today, the Pink Tax refers to the price markup for merchandise that is primarily made for women. Odds are that products geared toward women, as opposed to those that are gender-neutral or “made for men,” will be more expensive. In 2015, the New York Department of Consumer Affairs conducted an analysis of 794 products across five industries. They found that, on average, “women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men.” The study even lays out an almost-laughable Pink Tax through the ages. As children, girls’ toys are 7 percent more expensive than boys’. Their clothes, meanwhile, cost 4 percent more, and when they grow up, that number rises to 8. They’ll also pay 13 percent more than men for personal care items, and when they reach their wonder years, “women pay 8 percent more for senior/home health care products.” In some cases, companies actually do have to spend more money to develop specialized products for women. But other times, they’re just being greedy, and the female consumer is conditioned to overlook it, says Melissa Archpru Akaka, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Denver. “The cost of production might be similar to men’s products, such as razors, but because women are used to paying more for their specialized products, they may be less price sensitive and more willing to pay higher prices,” she explains. “In this case, companies are positioning these products as specialized products for women to increase profit margins.” Srdan Zdravkovic, an associate professor of marketing at Bryant University, agrees that manufacturers do hike up the costs of their products simply because they can. But he also believes that women can do something about it. “The difference in prices charged is probably driven by the fact that the female consumer is willing and able to spend more on the equivalent products,” he says. “In other words, the price of any product or service is somewhere between the cost of the product … and the maximum price consumers are willing the spend on the product … . If the female consumer segment refused to pay higher prices for these goods … the price [of the goods] would drop.”

Buyer Beware: Sneaky Tactics Marketing Companies Use

Marketing companies spend big bucks to grab the consumer’s attention. Often, this is done through specific techniques that are designed to attract one gender’s eye as opposed to the other. The next time you take a trip to your local superstore, look down the aisles that sell hygiene products. Chances are you can tell if you’re looking at the men’s aisle or the women’s just by looking at the colors of the products. Soft tones for women, bold tones for men. Pinks and purples for women, blues and blacks for men. But a lot more goes into marketing merchandise than just a color scheme. “To assume that women are targeted only by using female-friendly colors would ignore the number of other effective strategies marketers are using to appeal to this important consumer segment,” says Zdravkovic. “Product and service providers target women with a number of things,” he continues. “Some include the quality of the good … , relevant offerings, appropriate packaging that appeals to women, partnership with female-friendly endorsers, convenient access to the product, and association with female-friendly causes.”

Women, says Zdravkovic, usually respond to socially responsible and environmentally-friendly marketing messages better than men. Marketing companies use this knowledge to their advantage and often feature packaging and causes that appeal to women in this way. “… using pinks and purples [to attract the female consumer] could be perceived as sexist today,” says Zdravkovic. “In addition to responding emotionally to colors, women’s emotions can be influenced by symbols associated with the product. Shape of packaging has to be functional … [, and the] package has to be easy to store. Attractive shapes and symbols help extend the time women—or men—pay attention to our products in the store.” Marketers don’t merely target women, either, but specific groups of women. And depending on the target group—professional women, moms, athletic women—the message may change.

Products That Get the Upcharge

As mentioned before, the New York DCA study showed that women see higher prices for products throughout their lives. Want specifics? Let’s start with childhood: Toys, bookbags, bikes, scooters, and even helmets marketed to girls cost more than the same types of products that target boys. In adulthood, women’s dress pants cost six percent more than men’s do; their dress shirts cost 13 percent more; their regular shirts, 15 percent more; their jeans, 10 percent; their socks, 3 percent; their underwear, a whopping 25 percent.

Some call this [the] ‘shrink it and pink it’ strategy—make it smaller for women but charge premium price for it.

Finally, adult diapers cost women two percent more than they cost men. For good measure, here are a few other products the study found women pay more for:

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Razors
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Body wash
  • Clothing
  • Canes
  • Sports equipment

How do companies decide what they are going to charge more for? The answer depends on many different variables. “Perhaps women are looking for outcomes that are very different from men—[like a] wrinkle-free, smooth face—and ingredients in … products that achieve that outcome are more expensive than ingredients in men’s products that only call for increased moisture of the face,” says Zdravkovic. “Higher cost of goods sold lead to higher prices if we want to achieve similar profit margins for men’s and women’s products.” “On the other hand,” he continues, “many of the female products are actually smaller and use less material than equivalent male products, so the cost of goods sold is actually less for female products, but they end up being charged more. Some call this [the] ‘shrink it and pink it’ strategy—make it smaller for women but charge premium price for it.”

Why are women charged more when they make less?

And just when you thought women had it bad, this little bit of information makes it worse: The gender pay gap is a very real thing. On average, a woman brings in 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Add the Pink Tax, and that’s quite a constraint: Not only is there a gap in wages between genders, there’s a gap between wage and prices for women. Why would companies kick women when they’re already down by hiking up their prices? “… I don’t think there is one blanket reason this occurs,” says Akaka. “I’m also not sure that companies are conscientiously pricing their products with the wage gap in mind. Companies are continually trying to find ways to increase profitability and sometimes are not focused on the social issues related to their practices.” Akaka believes that by bringing attention to the Pink Tax, women can draw eyes to the wage gap, as well. “This situation is a symptom of a more systemic problem,” says Akaka. “It seems the underlying issue for those concerned with the ‘Pink Tax’ continues to be tied to valuation of women’s work in the workforce. Companies will probably continue to price based on profit margins and what they believe target markets will pay for particular products. This occurs with products that cross genders, as well; however, increasing awareness about the ‘Pink Tax’ draws attention to the wage discrepancy between men and women, which is the crux of the issue and should definitely receive more attention.”

How to Save Money

It would be unfair for a woman to pay more for her products simply because she has no choice. But the sad truth is that this situation happens all the time. The easiest way to avoid this unfair upcharge is to purchase the male versions of the products, says Akaka. But she also encourages women to take a stand, particularly when they feel the weight of the gender wage gap. “If women feel strongly about the discrepancy between costs and wages, they can voice their concerns in more public areas and collaborate with other women to initiate change,” Akaka says. You may not feel like you have much power when it comes to the Pink Tax, but you do. Companies hear you when their bottom line takes a hit. So go ahead and buy the blue razor, grab the body wash that has a manly scent, and throw caution to the wind when it comes to buying lotion in a bottle that isn’t covered in flowers. Tell your friends about it; while you’re at it, tell the world about it. Not only will the products cost less and likely work just as well as what you’re used to, but you’ll possibly start the change that ends the Pink Tax for good.

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