Time’s Up for the Pink Tax on Consumer Goods

published May 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Audrey Shtecinjo/Stocksy)

For me, it all started with questioning those little pink disposable razors embossed with daisies. Why did this disposable razor, my razor (and probably the first razor of every other female-identifying reader), identical in every single way except in color and decoration, cost so much more than my brother’s? It made zero sense. And it turns out that those increased prices—on average 13 percent for personal care products marketed towards women versus men across the board, have now definitively been quantified as a “pink tax” that has many women (including congresswomen and retail CEOs) rightly “seeing red.”

Women have more buying power than men, and millennial women have more purchasing power than any demographic, ever: 80 percent of health care decisions made; 58 percent of online retail dollars spent; 45 percent of consumer electronics purchased (as of 2007); even 44 percent of all NFL fans. But while we’ve had that clout since at least the 1950s, and we make the majority of the purchasing decisions domestically, we continue to earn less than men. In the immortal words of the Big Lebowski: “This sh*t cannot stand, man.”

Which is why some elected officials, and even some brands, have taken it upon themselves to not just raise awareness but to put measures in place to combat the pink tax and better protect female-identifying consumers. On Equal Pay Day last month, San Francisco congresswoman Jackie Speier and 27 of her colleagues proposed the Pink Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 5464), which would enable the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on known cases of price gouging women for products marketed to men at lower prices.

“Women get hit with a double whammy: They make less for doing the same work and they pay more for the same product or service because it’s for women,” Rep. Speier said in the press release. “Whether it’s a pink teddy bear, deodorant from the same manufacturer, or a white laundered shirt, it’s time to say enough! Discrimination is illegal.”

Rep. Speier (a survivor of the Jonestown massacre and founder of #MeTooCongress) took her fight to Congress starting in 2015, after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs published a study finding that women’s products cost up to 13 percent more than similar products for men—an inequity further compounded by the gender wage gap, which is even worse for women of color.

In that first-ever study of the gendered pricing of goods in New York City, spanning multiple industries and comparing nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold at two dozen New York City retailers (both online and in stores), the agency found that on average women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men—and up to 13 percent more for personal care products. In all but five of the 35 product categories analyzed, products for female consumers were priced higher than those for male consumers. Across the sample, the NYC study found that women’s products cost more 42 percent of the time while men’s products cost more only 18 percent of the time.

To combat the problem from within the retail industry, some brands like modern home decor company Snowe are joining the cause commercially. This past Tuesday, May 15th, Snowe founders Rachel Cohen and Andres Modak launched a collection of blush-colored bedding in a vocal Anti-Pink Tax campaign—pricing their pink-hued percale and sateen textiles at exactly 7 percent less than their existing color lines—along with a manifesto, and a call to action for consumers, about why the Pink Tax matters.

In it, Cohen and Modak recount their own personal experience with the pink tax in an anecdote about purchasing giant stuffed penguin toys for their friends’ kids, which were identical in every way—except that the pink one for the girl cost exactly 7.8 percent more than the one for the boy. (In the NYC study, analysts found that girls’ toys actually cost more 55 percent of the time.)

“Some of my favorite new companies are led by incredible women—women who, like me, have been paying that extra 7 percent on everything from office supplies to button-downs,” says Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO of Snowe. “When we think about our customers, we know we don’t want to fail them in that same way. And when we’re working together—with forward-thinking men, as well—we can create a new culture of treating shoppers with respect and equality.”

The outcomes of mid-term elections happening all across the country this year—including many primaries and primary run-off polls happening this very week—could prove to be major factors in setting policies such as better protecting consumers with reforms such as the Pink Tax Repeal Act. To find out if your elected officials are among the 28 congressmen and women fighting for your right not to be charged more for the same or similar products, view the list of bill co-sponsors here—or if you just want to purchase from retail brands addressing the products head-on, a handful of Snowe’s partners are quoted here, including AWAY luggage, Steven Alan clothing, and Billie razors (which is actually offering customers a “Pink Tax razor rebate”).

“It’s time to end gender-based pricing discrimination,” said Anna Laitin, Director of Financial Policy for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “Women shouldn’t have to pay more for products that are virtually identical to those sold to men at a cheaper price. It is an absurd practice, and the fact that it continues today demonstrates the need for this commonsense bill.”