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The high cost of being a woman

Study shows gender-based price discrimination

Created date

March 1st, 2016
male and female disposable razors

male and female disposable razors

President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act over 50 years ago, yet the gender pay gap persists. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American women earn just $.79 for every dollar men earn. Under the law, women must be paid the same wage for the same work. The $.21 disparity comes from variables such as the number of hours worked or the fact that many higher-paying jobs continue to be dominated by men. 

Not only do women earn less, they actually pay more. In 1994, the state of California conducted a study and concluded that women pay what amounts to a “female tax” of $1,351 simply by purchasing the same basic necessities as men. That study did not do a direct product-for-product comparison. Instead, it compared two overall lists of items—one for men and the other for women. 

‘From Cradle to Cane’

A new study by the New York City Bureau of Consumer Affairs called “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer” did directly compare the cost differences between men’s products and women’s products. They found that from baby clothes to toys to adult apparel and personal care items, items marketed to females were routinely more expensive.

“The conclusion of this report is simple—we still have a long way to go in eliminating gender discrimination,” says New York State Senator Leroy Comrie, a ranking member of the Committee on Consumer Protection. “It is unconscionable that women are forced to pay more for basic needs of living while often making less in wages than their male counterparts. Gender pricing disparities also disproportionately impact underprivileged and senior communities.”

“The most basic consumer right is one and the same with the most basic civil right—you should not be treated differently based on your gender and that includes how much you’re charged,” says New York Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin, an author of the study.

Findings

The study compared almost 800 products with clear male and female versions. It looked at prices charged by both brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. On average, women’s products cost 7% more than similar products for men. 

Some of the report’s findings include: 

• Women’s products cost more 42% of the time.

• Men’s products cost more 18% of the time.

• Products cost the same for both genders 40% of the time.

• In the category of home health care, women are paying about 8% more.

Smart consumers

The greatest price disparity was found in the category of personal care items such as shampoo, shaving supplies, and deodorant. For example, a blue package of CVS brand disposable razors costs $4.99. A pink package of the same CVS razors costs $6.99.

Rite Aid sells packages of bladder control pads for $11.99 regardless of the gender they are intended for. However, if you look closely, the women’s package contains 32 pads while the men’s package contains 50. Do the math and you will see that men pay about $.23 per pad while women pay $.38 per pad.  

Smart consumers have learned to compare prices when shopping at supermarkets and drug stores. However, it’s more than likely that people are comparing one brand to another. Women probably aren’t walking over to the men’s shaving section to see what the guys are paying, which is why many people don’t even realize that pricing discrimination exists. 

Reactions

This report got a great deal of attention when it was released back in December. Some retailers reacted by evening things out and repricing items mentioned in the report. It’s impossible to say if they were simply trying to avoid negative publicity or sincerely trying to correct an unfair situation. 

Increasing awareness of price discrepancies is a good start to pricing merchandise fairly. It is especially important to make the next generation aware of the inequity. Professor Robin Sackin, chairperson of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Fashion Business Management Department and a consultant on the report, says, “Gender pricing is an issue that is discussed constantly in the Fashion Business Management Department at FIT. We urge our students to understand how the garments they design and the fabrics that are used will ultimately be priced by retailers—and often priced differently because of gender. Pricing is one of the major factors that drive the fashion industry and, as consumers have become more savvy and shop through multiple channels, they compare prices and will be more likely to ask why prices are different for men and women when the garments are almost identical.”

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