Have you been paying the “Pink Tax”?

Chances are, if you’re a woman, you’ve been paying it for decades.

Women spend an average of $1351 in extra costs and fees each year, as part of a gender-biased phenomenon becoming more commonly known as the “Pink Tax” or “Woman Tax”. In 2010, Consumer Reports found that products directed at women—through name, description, or packaging—cost up to 50 percent more than similar, sometimes nearly identical, products for men.

Currently in the United States, there are no federal laws banning gender discrimination in the sale of goods and services.

Just what incurs the wrath of the pink tax?

1. Plus-Size Clothing

Gap Inc. may be raising the bar for large companies with improvements to their energy usage and creation of women-centered programs like P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement), but Old Navy, owned by the multinational corporation, is currently under fire for its plus sizing clothing sales.

A woman name Renee Posey from Randolph, New York started a Change.org petition in October after discovering that the company charged extra for plus-sized clothing. Posey concedes in her letter for the campaign that she “was fine paying the extra money as a plus-sized woman, because, you know, more fabric equals higher cost of manufacture”, but was shocked to find that men’s plus-size clothing cost no extra.

Old Navy responded to the claim, citing what they considered valid reasons for charging more for bigger women:

“For women, styles are not just larger sizes of other women’s items, they are created by a team of designers who are experts in creating the most flattering and on-trend plus styles, which includes curve-enhancing and curve-flattering elements such as four-way stretch materials and contoured waistbands, which most men’s garments do not include.”

Many are calling out the retailer, pointing out that regular women’s clothes include figure-enhancing elements, too. Posey rightfully questioned, “Do you only charge extra for them when they’re for big women?” While Posey and many others are angry, they note the opportunity for an ongoing dialogue to begin about plus-sized women being charged more for arbitrary reasons.

2. Their Dry-Cleaning

It’s not just plus-sized women who are being charged more when it comes to clothing. In 2009, Janet Floyd, the cofounder of a Manhattan market research firm, and her husband took their nearly identical Brooks Brothers oxford shirts to be laundered at a cleaner in Chelsea.

The shirts came back clean, but Ms. Floyd’s shirt cost $8.75 compared to her husband’s $7. Her shirt was a size 4 petite and her husband’s was a 15.5-inch neck and 33-inch sleeve—implying, if anything, that her shirt would be less expensive. When she called the cleaners to inquire about the price difference, they told her that despite her request for laundering, her shirt had been dry cleaned, a more costly service. The reason? The machine couldn’t “handle” the size or delicacy of her shirt.

Floyd called 50 cleaners in Manhattan over 18 days and found that women and men mostly paid the same for dry cleaning, but for laundering, men paid $2.86 on average and women paid $4.95. When she inquired about the price differences, several places cited their industrial pressing machines, explaining that they were built for men’s shirts.

Women’s often smaller and tapered clothing were not suited for these manly machines, instead needing to be hand-pressed; a more labor-intensive, and costly, washing process. Unisex machines exist at half the price of man-sized machines, but press less items of clothing per hour. Regardless, with the amount of women wearing dry clean only clothing for work and play, the investment seems worthwhile.

The problem is not just for New Yorkers, though. Obama discussed the dry cleaning gender discrepancies nationwide during a pay equity event earlier this year.

3. Shampoo, Deodorant, Pain Relievers, & Similar Items

In the 2010 information from Consumer Reports, researchers found numerous examples of everyday items being set at higher prices because they were marketed to women. At Walgreens, they discovered Excedrin Complete Menstrual cost 50 cents more than Excedrin Extra Strength, despite both medicines having the same ingredients in the same quantities. The report also noted that women were charged more for deodorants, razors, and body spray sold at various national retailers. Often the only notable differences between the male and female versions of products were the scent and packaging. In some cases, women actually paid more for less product.

A study from the University of Central Florida found similar information. Women’s deodorants were priced 30 cents higher than men’s, with scent being the only discernible difference. When manufacturers were asked for the reasoning, nearly all companies claimed that it was more expensive to manufacture products for women. Everything from “different packaging” to “foaming action” was offered as explanation for the disparate pricing. One spokesperson for two antiperspirants with the exact same percentages of the exact same ingredients for men and women claimed: “They are completely different formulations.”

4. Most Imported Products

Products for women cost more as soon as they enter the United States.

Since 2000, a New York City trade lawyer named Michael Cone has been fighting the federal government over gender-bias tariffs. While researching import tariffs (fees the U.S. charges on goods imported from other countries) at the request of a client who manufactured shoes, Cone discovered that the tariffs diverged across gender lines: men’s sneakers were taxed at 8.5 percent, while women’s were taxed at 10 percent.

As he continue researching, he found more and more price discrepancies based on gender. (An imported wool suit is taxed 8.5 percent for a woman and zero for a man?!) Some male items, like gloves, were more costly to males (14 percent versus 12.6 percent for females), but by-and-large, women’s items were taxed more.

Cone decided to sue the government, reaching out to other clients who might join him as co-plaintiffs. More than 100 companies eventually signed on, including Steve Madden and Urban Outfitters, but as of May 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court has continually denied attempts to challenge the federal government’s gender-based tariff rates, despite 200 well-known companies now filing claims.

Is it getting any better?

Actually, yes. Women saw a huge victory with their health insurance premiums when Obamacare was passed. Under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating (where insurers charge women higher premiums than men for identical services) is now illegal in all new individual and small group plans.

What can you do?

As one New York Times article suggested, maybe it’s time women shop in the men’s section. This is a viable option, since many products made for men are cheaper and yet fit the needs of all people.

If you’re looking to be a little more proactive, seek out products that are certified feminist or consider contacting your local governor or member of Congress to request a federal law outlawing gender pricing.

We could also take a note from French women’s right group Georgette Sand, who started drawing attention to these invisible taxes by posting photographs of unequal pricing found in French stores on their Woman Tax Tumblr. More than 44,000 people have signed a petition against French retailer Monoprix and the “Pink Tax” they charge. The petition is credited with prompting The Finance Ministry to order an inquiry into possible price discrimination by French retailers in general.

The “Pink Tax” is neither fair nor justified—and yet it still persists in many everyday products. But armed with knowledge and working together, we can take a stand against these insidious little taxes.


Amanda Oliver is a freelance writer, librarian, and frequent traveler. Currently all of her belongings fit into one suitcase. Visit her website, or follow her on Twitter: @aelaineo.