What's Wrong With Pink?
Issue 6, Volume 112
By Erica Li
In the United States, where the average woman earns 82.3 cents for every dollar a man makes, it is despairing that women pay more than men for certain goods like clothes and hygiene and health products. This phenomenon is called gender-based pricing, nicknamed the “pink” tax. The pink tax is not actually a tax; it is the upcharge on items that are traditionally intended for women rather than men, despite the only distinction between the two products being cosmetic.
The pink tax is not a new concept; women have been charged a higher price since the sales tax system was created between the 1930s and 1960s. Decades ago, gender roles heavily enforced the idea of the single-income family, with the men working and the women staying at home, causing the sales tax system creators to focus their taxes on products that were not as commonly bought. The concept of a single-income family also meant that all expenses were borne by a household and not a single person. However, as women began to make advances in the workforce and bear the cost individually, the sales tax system did not and still has not changed to reflect the times.
For example, a consumer reports study in 2010 found that women paid as much as 50 percent more than men did for similar products. A woman pays the average price of $8.39 for shampoo/conditioner, while a man pays $5.68 for the same product in a different scent or color. “Masculine” products that are commonly in black or navy packaging are often cheaper than “feminine” products in pink or purple packaging. For example, the cheap single-bladed razors found on sale in most drug stores have two versions: a blue “men’s” version and a pink “women’s” version. There is no difference between the two besides the color, but the female version costs $1.08 while the male version costs $0.75. The pink tax doesn’t just revolve around color, either. The simple act of labeling a product as feminine or masculine adds a certain type of imagery to these products, leading people to associate them with a certain gender.
In addition, many of the items that the pink tax affects are necessity products purchased frequently, such as shampoo, body wash, and razors. These costs add up over time and become even more complicated due to the gender pay gap. The increased prices hit women and girls from lower income families harder and disproportionately affect women of color. A non-Hispanic white woman makes on average 79 cents for every dollar a non-Hispanic white man makes, while a Black woman makes 62 cents, and a Hispanic woman makes 54 cents. Years of earning less have put women of color specifically at a disadvantage when paying for necessities, so the pink tax costing up to $2,135 a year drastically affects their lives.
The pink tax even affects children as young as infants. Buying a pink helmet for a child might cost up to 13 percent more compared to buying a blue helmet. In a study by Boomerang Commerce on 50 popular kids’ products at different online retailers, pink items, compared to other colors, were two to 15 percent more expensive.
Similar to the pink tax is the tampon tax. It is also not a real tax but a nickname for a value-added tax charged on menstrual products because they are classified as non-essential items. It places an extra burden on people who menstruate, as a woman typically pays between $100 to $225 in taxes on tampons over her lifetime. For lower-income women, necessary menstrual products like tampons and pads become unaffordable, causing many to resort to using unsafe materials instead of purchasing pads. For example, women in many developing parts of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa, are prone to using paper, old clothes, leaves, cotton, or wool pieces to manage their cycles.
Many argue that there are justified reasons for why the pink tax still exists. For one, tariffs—taxes imposed by the federal government on products imported into the US—on women’s clothing are supposedly higher than men’s clothing. Another claim is that the product design for women is often more complex and thus costs more, causing companies to increase the prices. Women’s clothes also tend to be more labor and time intensive. For example, dry cleaners who can use pressing machines traditionally built for men’s shirts are forced to hand press women’s shirts, as they are often smaller and tapered in a way not typically suited for these machines. Additionally, retailers see women as their biggest market target, which means that companies are willing to spend more money advertising specifically to women than to men. However, the color pink or the design of the product does not hinder the manufacturing process, nor does it cause any more difficulty than a different color, like blue.
There is no reason why an average woman needs to pay an extra $2,135 each year to receive the same product quality as men, even if in a different color or design. This gender pricing gap needs to be eradicated. We can help by supporting companies that take a stand against the pink tax with gender-neutral pricing and buying more gender-neutral items when shopping. We can also talk to state representatives to make it clear that the enhanced prices caused by the pink tax are no longer acceptable.