5 On Your Side

It's a fact of life: Women pay more for some products, services

Posted February 11
Updated February 18

Ever heard of the woman tax? It happens when females pay a higher price just because they're female, and it can be seen in everything from haircuts to razor blades.

5 On Your Side's Monica Laliberte first looked into the issue 15 years ago, and now it is getting new attention.

In 2001, 5 On Your Side compared six different products that both men and women use and found that women paid about $25 more than men for identical items. The new attention was triggered by a government study in New York. It looked at 800 different products, from toys to clothing to personal care products. Researchers found women paid on average 7 percent more than men for the same product.

It has been called "woman tax," "pink tax" or "gender pricing."

You see it at salons, where a man's haircut costs less, and in clothing, where boot cut jeans cost women $10 more.

5 On Your Side found discrepancies in body wash, shampoo and even socks.

Ryan McDevitt, an assistant professor of Economics at Duke University Fuqua School of Business says manufacturers and stores get away with the "woman tax" because women are willing to pay it.

"I think it really comes down to how much women care about product versus men," he said.

"Women care a lot about what goes into their hair so they're willing to pay a premium for that. Men don't care at all. If they can't find the right shampoo at the right price, they'll just use a bar of soap or whatever it is."

The price differential shows up in services, too.

A hair cut for Kevin's long hair cost $30. A trim for Wendy's short hair, at the same salon, cost $35.

At the dry cleaners, a man's small shirt and a woman's XL – the same amount of fabric – cost different prices to be washed and pressed. According to both cleaners 5 On Your Side visited, women's shirts cost more because they don't fit pressing machines, so they have to be pressed by hand.

The New York study found price differences start with the young. A red scooter, which could be marketed to a girl or a boy, cost $25 less than an identical one in pink.

McDevitt says demand allows for the higher price.

"It's a small segment of the girl population that really wants that pink version that's gonna nag their parents and force their hand and make them pay that premium for the pink version. That's why you see these different prices," he said.

After the study became public, the toy retailer brought the prices back in line.

No federal laws ban so-called gender pricing, but gender price gouging for services, such as hair salons and dry cleaning, is illegal in California, New York and Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Michael Cone, a trade lawyer, says part of the problem is that women's clothing, shoes and gloves often enter the country with a higher import tax than men's. He found it dates back to at least the mid-1800s.

"It may be $5 extra paid to Uncle Sam, but by the time it hits the shelf it can be $10, $12, $13," he said.

McDevitt points out that women have a choice.

"No one's forcing you to buy the woman's version of the product," he said.

And until women send a message to retailers with their wallets, it's unlikely much will change.

"It's all coming down to what consumers are willing to pay for something," McDevitt said. "That's what they're in business to do is to offer us these products that we're willing to pay a premium for."

11 Comments

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  • Michele McIntosh Feb 24, 2016
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    Well Said. One example that I find especially annoying is women's dress shirts for work. Men's button down oxford shirts are available every year in a variety of colors/patterns and sizes at a relatively affordable price. Comparable non-trendy women's shirts tend to cost 2x as much, and I generally am lucky to find one a year that is well made, in a good cut, and available in maybe 1-3 colors. Women are in the workforce, but our available clothing options generally skew toward weekend/party/house rather than professional options, despite the need. It is time consuming and expensive, to shop for items that will retain long term value, as a woman, when compared with men's options.

  • Erika Phipps Feb 19, 2016
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    Men aren't saying it sweetie, lots of us gals are because we live and shop in the real world, and have the capacity to make rational choices. Also? Here's a news flash, men and women are different, and don't have the same (superficial) priorities - my husband and sons-in-law have lovely pink shirts and even ties, so the hang up seems to be with you, not the men. And yeah, I have a choice about clothes. I can pay $40 for 32" long women's jeans, or pay $9.96 for the same length of mens' at Walmart. You have been brainwashed by the matriarchy and, pssst, the emperor (or is it empress?) ain't got a stitch on - pink or othewise.

  • Kristin Byrne Feb 19, 2016
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    My haircut costs more because I have longer hair and it takes longer. My husband's haircut takes 20 minutes, and that's when he gets his hair washed. For a lot of men, a haircut is a necessity. For a lot of women, it's an experience. I go, get pampered, have a glass of wine, and zone out for 45 minutes or so. It's only common sense that it would cost more than the cut at Supercuts.

    As for everything else, it's true. Women will pay for it. My husband and I use the same type of razors because they work better. They're men's razors. My skin is sensitive, so I can't use the $10 body wash even if I was silly enough to pay for it.

    Are some things more expensive for no reason? Sure, but no one is forced to buy them. It's like people who complain about stores opening on Thanksgiving. Retailers do things because there's a demand. The only ones we have to blame about that are the consumers themselves.

  • Brandon White Feb 19, 2016
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    Also, kudos to Erika.

  • Brandon White Feb 19, 2016
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    And the win with a golf clap to Roy Hinckley:)

  • Brandon White Feb 19, 2016
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    Just say no, no one is forcing you to purchase. Women will purchase if they want, men will purchase if they need.

  • Clif Bardwell Feb 19, 2016
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    Ms. Laliberte failed to ask the right person the right question(s). Why didn't she ask the people responsible for setting the prices what's up with the "pink tax"? She asked researchers and lawyers for their opinions, but I don't want to hear from the observers, I want to hear from those who are actually doing something.

  • Roy Hinkley Feb 19, 2016
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    Dad would probably buy the pink scooter, and $3 can of spray paint.

  • Chance Loria Feb 19, 2016
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    No, women really don't have a choice and I'm sick of men saying we do. If it were reversed, would men buy women's products because they were cheaper? No, they would not. Would a dad buy little Johnny the pink scooter because it was cheaper? Absolutely not. So stop saying women have a choice and can buy the men's products if they want to force a retailer's hand.

  • Kioko Fulgarion Feb 19, 2016
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    This is why my female friends tend to go for the masculine route with these things, it doesn't affect their feminine selves at all but eases the blow to their wallets, and at the cost of a tad more ridiculous looking fashion.

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