The Secret Tax Screwing Women Out of Thousands of Dollars Over a Lifetime

Thought the wage gap was the biggest strain on your lady wallet? There's another reason being a woman drains your bank account, and it's got nothing to do with the fact that we make 77 cents to the dollar

It's called the pink tax, and if you're a woman whose daily priorities include a moderate amount of grooming and personal hygiene, over the course of your lifetime it could cost you roughly $100,000, according to a 1996 survey California survey Mic adjusted for inflation.

Source: YouTube

The pink tax refers to the extra money tacked onto products and services targeted at women. It's what makes Gillette charge almost a dollar more for women's shaving cream even though it's essentially the same product as men's. The worst part? The price gouging is almost inescapable, affecting everyday products like razors, shampoos and deodorant. In fact, a 2010 consumer report found that personal hygiene products can be up to 50% more expensive for women as they are for men. Often these products are the same brand and contain the same active ingredients. The only difference is their smell

The tax extends to clothing, too: Women's plus-size items at stores like Old Navy are more expensive than standard items, but such a price distinction doesn't exist for men. Dry cleaning services also exhibit price discrimination, charging more for women's shirts than a men's shirts "even if they are smaller and made of the same cloth," according to the New York Times.

Although it's only a few dollars difference at the time of purchase, the bills add up. MarketWatch calculated that if a woman gets one shirt dry cleaned once per month, for example, she would pay $681 more than a man doing the same over the course of 30 years. Women pay an average of $16 more than men per haircut, too, according to US News.

What gives? For one thing, companies and businesses take advantage of the fact that stores aren't set up to encourage the cross-checking of prices. Aisles are typically segregated based on gender, meaning razors for women are rarely placed directly next to men's — which makes spotting pricetag differences more difficult. 

Companies also charge more because they know that female consumers will buy these products, due in no small part to savvy marketing teaching consumers that certain products are just for women or men, but not both. As a result, women may not consider purchasing a product targeted towards men as an option, even if it costs less. It's simple economics that as long people are willing to pay a premium, certain products will continue to cost more. Of course, this also means that consumers' spending decisions can have real power. 

According to international trade lawyer Michael Cone, the root of the pink tax goes back to the 19th century, when different tariffs were placed on products entering the United States. For example, imported women's athletic shoes have historically been taxed more than male footwear — a cost that then gets passed on to the consumer. Although the difference in tariffs between men and women's footwear is currently only about 1.5%, according to Cone, this premium adds up when companies have to pay the taxes on each product that enters the country. This means "Uncle Sam" collects "about $60 million a year" more on women's shoes than on men's," Cone told Mic, which is why women and girls end up paying more for their Nikes than men and boys.

Cone says states like New York or California have passed laws against differentiating prices based on consumer gender, but the fines for breaking these rules are generally low (in some cases $50 per establishment per product), and there is little enforcement. As such, the practice may often continue unhindered at large and small stores alike.

So what can we do about it? It's important to remember the amount of power we hold as consumers. Boycotting products that have gendered pricing is one way of sending a message to companies that we will not tolerate price discrimination. Another is to photograph the worst offenders, tag their companies on social media and use the hashtag #pinktax.

Until companies fix this unfair sexist practice, you won't find me in the women's aisle. If I smell "like a man," you can blame the system.

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Elizabeth Plank

Elizabeth is a Senior Correspondent at Mic and the host of Flip the Script.

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