It’s expensive to be a woman.

For many of us, our beauty regimens take a toll on our wallets. It is estimated that American women spend an average of $15,000 on makeup in their lifetimes. And then of course, there’s haircuts and coloring, shoes, clothes, waxing, and skin care. Oh, and did I mention accessories?

But even those of us who prefer to go au naturale are not off the hook. Bras can range from $10 to over $200, and unless you’re particularly flat-chested, you need to wear one. Then there’s the matter of pads and tampons. From the time we’re 12 until we’re 50, buying monthly feminine hygiene products is non-negotiable. The Huffington Post found that the average American woman spends $18,171 on her period in her lifetime. This figure includes an average of $11,400 spent on birth control alone.

Only $14.99 for a hot water bottle to ease the mind-numbing cramps! Copyright: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Only $14.99 for a hot water bottle to ease the mind-numbing cramps! Copyright: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

But did you know that women also pay more for everyday items and services?

In a study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), it was found that products marketed to women cost more than equivalent men’s products. From toys to deodorant to dry cleaning, women often pay more — even if the only difference between the products is pink or blue packaging.

This extra charge is called the ‘Pink Tax’, and it has millions of women seeing red.

Why does this happen?

In some cases, the Pink Tax seems to make sense. For example, a woman’s haircut may cost more than a man’s, but that can be chalked up to variations in labor, considering that women’s haircuts are often far more complicated and time-consuming.

But in other cases, the Pink Tax does not seem justifiable. Why should women have to pay more for pink stool softener? And why is a pink scooter twice as expensive as its identical red counterpart? Is there a huge value difference between pink razors and blue ones?

She should have gone with blue. Copyright: Creative Family/Shutterstock

She should have gone with blue. Copyright: Creative Family/Shutterstock

It turns out, the Pink Tax is partially due to an actual tax.

A 2015 study by the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy found that the tariffs for imported menswear and womenswear are unequal. On average, the tariff for womenswear is 15.1%, while for menswear it’s 11.9%.

Gender-based tariffs go back to the 1830s, but there is no documentation explaining the reason for them. In the US, gender was not regarded as a classification for discrimination until the Equal Protection Clause was signed in the 1970s.

According to Michael Cone, a New York City trade lawyer:

Back [in the 1830s], no one thought about that as a potential violation…most people have no idea that it’s even out there. But think of it this way: You and I are standing in line to buy shoes. You pay a price and then there’s a sales tax of 10 percent if it’s shoes for women, and mine says tax is 8.5 percent for shoes for men. If you have that visibility at the checkout counter, people would go berserk.

Segmented marketing is also to blame.

Have you ever noticed that products marketed for women are often comparatively smaller and...pinker than their male-targeted or gender-neutral counterparts? For this, you can thank a common, ubiquitous marketing practice called ‘Shrink It and Pink It’, which goes back to the 1950s. In today’s world, this convention seems laughably outdated — although women don’t find it quite so funny once they realize that they pay more for the very products that have been “shrunk and pinked”.

To be fair, marketers often divide their consumer population into subsets in order to target specific groups. This well-known business tool is useful and often legitimate. It’s the reason that a commercial for Nikes aires on ESPN rather than the cooking channel. It’s also the reason that children’s cold medicine comes in bubble gum flavor. However, when targeting a population by certain demographics (such as race or gender) the line between marketing and blatant discrimination can become blurred.

What can you do?

The most obvious way to fight the Pink Tax is to buy the men’s/gender-neutral version of products when you can. This can get a little tricky when it comes to scented soap and deodorant; some women may say that they don’t want to “smell like a man” (um, guilty). But there’s always unscented. And when it comes to razors, picking blue over pink isn’t going to make a difference when it comes to getting a smooth shave.

But shopping smarter doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Especially when many people don’t even realize it exists.

Spreading awareness is key.  

In 1995, a California study revealed that women pay $1,351 more per year for the same products as men. When the study was released, it created such a stir that California became the first state to ban gender-discriminatory pricing in 1996. 20 years later, and California remains the only state that implemented such legislation.

Fortunately, with the Pink Tax back in the spotlight, more and more people are becoming privy to this issue. In June of 2015, Ohio lawmakers introduced a bill to eliminate the Pink Tax on pads and tampons (feminine hygiene products are often taxed as luxury items, but that’s a discussion for another article). Illinois is also fighting the Pink Tax on tampons. And California has recently introduced another bill to fight the Pink Tax, which aims to work as an extension of 1995’s Gender Tax Repeal Act.

The more people voice their opposition to the Pink Tax, the more pressure there will be on lawmakers to amend it. But that can’t happen until there is widespread awareness of the problem. So spread the word, because enough is enough.

It’s time for merchandisers to stop shrinking and pinking women’s bank accounts.

A shrinking piggy bank isn't usually this cute. Copyright: Carolyn Franks/Shutterstock

A shrinking piggy bank isn’t usually this cute. Copyright: Carolyn Franks/Shutterstock



*Featured photo courtesy of Wrangler/Shutterstock