The pink tax: The hidden cost of being female

Women working to achieve financial independence face an extra hurdle: the hidden cost of being female.

Though it’s cheekily referred to as the “pink tax”, the additional cost women incur for personal-care products, toys, clothing, dry cleaning, health care, mortgages, and vehicle maintenance is no joking matter. It inflates our budgets, limits our ability to save, and sometimes hinders our ability to access affordable and safe sources of credit.

Based on that semi-intense description of the pink tax, you may think it’s already been made illegal to charge someone more on the basis of their gender. But that’s not true. There’s no federal law prohibiting companies from charging different prices for products that are identical (or very similar), but which are marketed by gender. At least not currently.

Only one U.S. municipality — Miami-Dade County — has banned this practice. California enacted a similar restriction in 1995, but it applies only to the pricing of services. New York City followed in 1998.

On top of the pink tax, women still earn less than their male counterparts. The average woman is paid 82 cents for every $1 her male colleagues earn; the discrepancy is much worse for women of color.

When you’re paying more for basic goods and services from birth until death — just because you’re female — it’s easy to understand why so many women are pushing to “Ax the Pink Tax”.

The Pink Tax: The Hidden Cost of Being Female

What is the Pink Tax?

Twenty-five years ago, in 1994, the State of California studied the issue of gender-based pricing. They found women pay about $1300 more each year for the same services as men. Accounting for inflation, that figure is now closer to $2135 per year.

If that figure doesn’t shock you, maybe this will: By the time a woman turns 29 (like me), she’ll have spent an estimated $39,203 on the pink tax alone! Can you imagine how much money I could have right now if I’d put the money I spent on the pink tax in a savings account? Especially one with compounded interest!?

In 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) published a report on the pink tax entitled “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer”. The report found that women’s products cost more than men’s products 42 percent of the time. 42 percent! By comparison, men’s products cost more than the female version 18 percent of the time.

According to the DCA report, products for female consumers were likely to cost more across industries:

  • Girls’ toys cost more 55 percent of the time, while boys’ toys cost more 8 percent of the time.
  • Girls’ clothing cost more 26 percent of the time, while boys’ clothing cost more 7 percent of the time.
  • Women’s clothing cost more 40 percent of the time, while men’s clothing cost more 32 percent of the time.
  • Women’s personal-care products (shampoo, conditioner, razors, lotion, deodorant, body wash, and shaving cream) cost more 56 percent of the time, while men’s products cost more 13 percent of the time.
  • Senior home health-care products (supports and braces, canes, compression socks, adult incontinence products, and digestive health products) cost more for women 45 percent of the time and cost more for men 13 percent of the time.

Nowhere is the pink tax more evident than when it comes to personal-care products. Personal-care products geared toward women cost approximately 13 percent more than similar products marketed toward men.

Similarly, women are financially penalized for having their menstrual cycle. The U.S. government has deemed menstrual products a "luxury item" despite the fact that menstrual cycles are a monthly reality for all women, not a “luxury”.

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