Beware of the “pink tax”

Most people are familiar with the problem of gender pay inequality; when women in the same job as a male counterpart earn significantly less. But there’s another gender-centric problem, the so-called, “pink tax.”

A recent study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs indicates that women are charged up to seven percent more for identical products with so-called female-focused packaging. Imagine your shampoo bottle, for example.

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It may be the identical product inside, but the men’s version might have a blue label and the women’s is pink. Still, the product is the same, costs the same to produce, package and distribute, but women are charged more at the retail counter. Why?

The report, titled, “From Cradle to Cane, the Cost of Being a Female Consumer,” compared nearly 800 retail products to see exactly how much discrepancy there was between gender pricing. The results were illuminating, to say the least.

In one survey, the aforementioned shampoo was not seven percent higher for the women’s version, but a shocking 48-percent more. Keep in mind that, in most cases, although there may be an aesthetic design difference, the contents or function of the product in question is exactly the same.

Unfortunately, the “pink tax” isn’t limited to retail purchases. A recent undercover report by CBS News showed that the same problem exists with service businesses as well, like dry cleaners.

A female producer and a male counterpart from CBS took nearly identical cotton, button-down shirts to several New York dry cleaner. In more than half of the establishments, the woman was charged twice as much for identical service, claiming that since the shirt didn’t fit on their press machines, it cost more. And this goes on all the time, in countless situations.

(Click on the video above for the TV version on this topic.)

But where exactly is the additional charge coming from? One of the problems with countering price inequality has to do with the supply chain. The longer it is, the less likely it will be to uncover the source of the problem.

In addition, this issue is certainly not restricted to adult hygiene products. Children’s clothing and toys also indicate a gender price difference. In the study, of products ranging from scooters and baby onsies to bike helmets and kids’ jeans, the price difference between boys and girls’ versions averaged around 13-percent.

Although there are laws prohibiting gender price gouging for service charges in many areas of the country, in retail this practice is still perfectly legal. To protect themselves, female consumers will just have to be on their toes about it. Here are some suggestions that might help keep you from overpaying.

First, consider how important it is to you as a female consumer whether the bottle is pink with flowers or steel blue. Does it really matter that the razor you’re using is pink or that the handle looks like a seahorse? If it does, then prepare to pay up. If not, buy the men’s versions of common household items and personal products. Over a year’s time, you’ll literally save hundreds of dollars.

For services, ask about your cost before engaging the provider. If it’s a car repair, for example, get a quote from at least three competing service centers. Really, you should be doing that anyway. If it seems off, ask a male friend or family member to get the car checked for you. It seems ridiculous in the 21st Century, but there is still a plenty of, “Well, little lady,” down-talking that goes on in auto shops.

Where the actual item in question is concerned, dry-cleaning a women’s shirt, for example, there may be nothing you can do about the price difference. But, check out the local newspaper or search online for discount coupons that might make up the difference.

If you’re a local grocer or other retailer, take a look at what you’re charging women for “pink packaging.” There’s a sure fire way to double your sales – cut your pricing on women’s retail products to that of the men’s versions then be sure to publicize that you’re doing it. You might have to eat some extra cost at first, but the increase in overall business and traffic will make up for it.