• Explainer: The Pink Tax

    Gender-based pricing discrimination, also known as the “Pink Tax,” refers to the higher price of specific products and services marketed to women consumers. The Pink Tax is consistently applied to personal care products (e.g. deodorant, razors, shampoo) or personal care services (e.g. haircuts).

    However, for women who don’t want to pay increased prices for essentially the same products, is the solution to just stop buying pink razors? The issue cuts deeper than that.

    Statistics and Examples

    A study done by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that products marketed towards women and girls “cost 7% more than comparable products for men and boys.” For essentially the same products and services, women pay an extra $1,300 more per year than men do. 

    While the biggest discrepancy was found to be in personal care products, which was 13% higher for women, there was an 8% upscaling for adult women’s clothing, 7% for girls’ accessories and toys, and 4% for girl’s clothing. 

    The Pink Tax isn’t always apparent when comparing products side by side; the gender-based pricing discrimination can be seen in more subtle ways as well. The popular clothing store Old Navy was found to be charging $12-15 more for women’s plus-size jeans than the standard-size, whereas men’s plus-size jeans were priced no differently. In regard to services, a study by Northwestern University found that women who acted clueless when inquiring about replacing a radiator at a repair shop were charged $406 for a $365 job, yet men who did the same were charged $383. 

    While women may be able to avoid the Pink Tax by simply purchasing the counterpart product, menstrual products constitute a whole different category. Often referred to as the “Tampon Tax,” women are estimated to spend about $3,000 on menstrual products in their lifetime. These products are still subjected to sales tax because they are classified as “luxury” items, unlike products that are considered essential and are subjected to a tax exemption. Supporters of a tax exemption for menstrual products argue that they should be labeled as a necessity because “feminine hygiene is not a choice.” Furthermore, this tax can impede a woman’s access to menstrual products and could translate into an obstacle in accessing adequate healthcare. 

    How Are Differing Prices Justified? 

    Price discrimination is illegal, including gender-based pricing discrimination. However, multiple companies and services justify charging nonidentical prices by claiming women’s products to require more expensive materials or higher labour intensiveness. For example, women’s haircuts may take longer than men’s, or dry cleaning may be more labour intensive for women’s clothing due to having more delicate materials.

    It can also be argued that production costs of clothing vary for men and women due to differences in “[textile,] build, cut, and design.” Similarly, some items marketed for women “have higher tariffs [or manufacturing costs] when imported from abroad,” which then trickles down to the women consumers. 

    Gender norms are a significant propeller of the Pink Tax, and a large reason why women continue to pay 7-13% more for products that are comparable to men’s. Gender socialization is the “process by which people learn how they ‘should’ act based on their sex.” Gender socialization defines gender norms and individuals’ identities within them, acting as a facilitator of the Pink Tax. Women are socialized to prioritize their physical appearances as a way to appeal to the male gaze and thus be seen as valuable in society. The expectation is that women should be constantly buying makeup, getting their nails done, or shaving their legs to make sure they are appealing to their male counterparts. Not only does this form of gender socialization lead women to have to spend more on personal care products, but it normalizes the objectification of women. 

    The Consequences of Pricing Discrimination 

    Pricing discrimination has long-term consequences in perpetuating gender discrimination and widening the gender pay gap. Essentially, marketing the same products differently and making women’s products more costly than men’s perpetuates the gender constructs that society has set up towards women, expecting them to look a certain way and follow trends.

    Also, the discrepancy in pricing costs disadvantages women’s quality of life. While the percentage difference in men’s and women’s products may be small, this difference accumulates to roughly $1,300 more per year in extra costs and price. That $1,300 per year is money taken away from a woman’s savings, pension fund, and other spending demands. This financial loss is in addition to the $3,000 of expenses on menstrual products, which is another $3,000 that cannot be spent elsewhere. 

    While the solution to this problem may be for women to simply “stop buying pink razors,” the Pink Tax sheds light on deeper issues of gender discrimination that have been built into our society’s structure.

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    Lara Yacoub

    Lara Yacoub

    Lara is originally half-Syrian and half-Egyptian, but grew up in Mexico City and Calgary, AB. She moved to Vancouver in 2019 to pursue a degree in International Relations at UBC. Ever since moving, she has fallen in love with the city, and in her free time enjoys scouting out the city's numerous restaurants, hidden gems, and beautiful beaches.

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