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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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The pink tax is just another cost of being a girl

Women are charged a so-called “pink tax” because they pay more than men for equivalent products, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

IMAGINE THE NEXT time you go to a hairdresser in Dublin and you see the following prices:

  • Haircut for heterosexuals: €25
  • Haircut for gays and lesbians: €50

That would be blatant discrimination, right?

Then, imagine after your haircut, you go to a restaurant and the menu reads:

  • Spaghetti bolognese (for white people): €14
  • Spaghetti bolognese (for black people, Asians and Latinos): €21

“More discrimination,” you would say.

Thankfully, this sort of dodgy pricing doesn’t exist. However, in Ireland and elsewhere, price discrimination does exist, and it’s based on gender.

Indeed, women are charged a so-called “pink tax” because they pay more than men for equivalent products.

To add insult to injury, the pink tax comes on top of the gender “pay gap” faced by women, which is 14% in Ireland. This means that on average, if an Irish man and a woman each work one hour, the woman will earn 14% less than the man.

There have been a number of studies documenting the pink tax, but the most recent comprehensive one was just published by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

It surveyed 800 consumer products in New York’s stores over the life cycle (including baby, adult and older people’s goods) and across sectors (including clothes, toiletries, personal health care, accessories).

It looked at 90 brands sold at two dozen retailers, both online and in stores.

The overall finding is that women’s products cost on average 7% more than their men equivalents.

Some examples include kids’ bike helmets (boy version $14.99, girl version $27.99), tops (boy version $5.47, girl version $7.77) and jeans (men’s version $68, women’s version $88).

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A similar study by the London Times confirmed the results. It found that on average, British women are charged 37% more than men for equivalent products.

For instance, Levi’s 501 jeans for women are 46% more expensive than the men’s version.

Other US-based studies found that women buying used cars are twice as likely to be quoted a higher price than men.

A survey of 80 hair salons found that women pay 25% extra for the same haircuts.

Moreover, women pay 27% more for laundering a basic white cotton shirt.

A California study estimated that women effectively were forced to pay an annual pink tax of $1,351.

Laws have been enacted to prevent such discrimination. For instance, in New York City, violations can be issued to dry cleaners, hair salons and any “retail service establishment” that illegally price their services based on gender, so that prices must reflect differences in the labour that is required to produce the service.

In 2014 and 2015, 118 and 129 violations were issued respectively.

I’m not aware of any systematic survey in Ireland, but two low-scale investigations have revealed the existence of a pink tax. One found that the premium paid by women is as follows:

  • 10% more for deodorant
  • 35% more for body wash
  • 78% more for razors
  • 16% more for shaving foam
  • 59% more for facial moisturiser

The other noted that women’s haircuts are about double the price as men’s at Peter Mark on Grafton Street in Dublin while Toni & Guy’s salon charges women €54 and men only €30 for a senior stylist.

Of course, stores and service providers deny all that.

Hair salons argue that women’s cuts are more complicated and require significantly more time. Dry cleaners assert that women’s clothes are often not standard in shape and thus require more work to be ironed. Manufacturers maintain that razor blades for women are supposedly different enough to warrant charging more.

Also, some say women should simply buy the plain versions of products and not be tempted by women’s versions. In other words, buy the men’s razors, they’re the same as the women’s razors anyway.

But such claims are tenuous and besides the point. If a man goes to a hair stylist and asks for a complicated haircut, he will still be charged half what a woman will pay for a simple haircut.

Therefore, prices should vary with the amount of labour involved, not with the gender of the customer.

The same goes for dry cleaners, who should charge more for “non standard” clothes, not for women’s clothes.

Also, although it could be said that women should save money by buying men’s products instead, it is interesting that we never hear the opposite for men’s goods that are more expensive.

For example, the New York study above found that men’s underwear are 29% more expensive than their female equivalent. So, should men stop complaining and buy women’s underwear?

If you think they should, well, go for it. But I suspect that most people would object.

In other words, there shouldn’t be gender discrimination in price – the pink tax must be abolished.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. You can follow him on Twitter @JulienMercille.

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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