Why is there a pink tax?

For all the gender equality strides that have been made, it’s still difficult to be a woman in 2019. Women still only make 80.5 cents for every dollar men make, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. There were only 24 women heading up companies on the Fortune 500 list in 2018. And half of the companies on the Russell 3000 index have one or no women directors on their boards.

While having fewer opportunities to rise through the ranks of corporate America and earning less than their male counterparts, women, it seems, generally pay more for a variety of consumer goods. “By the time a woman turns 30, she’s been robbed of $40,562 just for being a woman,” said Sherry Baker, president of product development and marketing at European Wax Center, which launched the campaign #AxThePinkTax. “Every year, a woman spends more than a man for products, including T-shirts, personal care items and services, because of inflated pricing.”

What is the pink tax?

Baker is referring to the practice of charging more for products marketed toward women—which are frequently pink—than the same products sold to men. This includes female-specific products that would be considered medical necessities, such as tampons. “The pink tax impacts each and every woman in the U.S., forcing us to pay more for basic necessities, for the mere fact of being a woman,” said Baker.

History of the pink tax

The pink tax isn’t new; in fact, it’s been around for decades, when the U.S. drafted the sales tax system between the 1930s and the 1960s. “It was a very different world at a time when were figuring out which products to tax and which to exempt,” said Laura Strausfeld, co-founder of PeriodEquity.org. “It was a world in which it was single-income families with men working and women staying at home.”

In other words, in the old days, these expenses were borne by a household. Today, they’re often borne by women alone. “This notion of the pink tax arises from the advances women have made in the workforce and bearing individually the cost of being a woman in the world,” Strausfeld said.

There are other explanations for why the pink tax exists. One such reason is that tariffs on clothing imports for women are higher. Another chalks it up to the fact that product design for women’s consumer goods is often more elaborate—marketing pink women’s razors, for instance—which runs up costs for a company, who then passes those costs down to the consumer.

How much does the pink tax cost women?

Estimates of how much women pay in pink taxes vary. In 1994, California ran a gender-pricing study and estimated that women paid roughly an extra $1,350 every year for personal care services, such as haircuts and dry cleaning, which is $2,135 in today’s dollars.

In 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs did its own study, concluding that women and girls pay about 7% more, on average, for consumer goods than men and boys do. That breakdown looks like this:

In fact, products for women cost more in 30 out of 35 categories covered by the study. The report’s takeaway: “In every industry, products for female consumers were more likely to cost more.”

While studies haven’t estimated the long-term cost of the pink tax, it’s clear that women will generally pay thousands more than men for services and products over a lifetime.

Items that get the pink tax markup

Women frequently pay more for products that are marketed specifically to women, but they also pay more for services than men do. Some pink tax examples include:

  • Tampons: While other medically necessary products, such as prescription drugs and neck braces, are exempt from state sales tax, 36 states still tax women’s menstrual products. It’s called the “tampon tax.”
  • Personal care products: Shampoo and conditioner, razors, lotion, deodorant, body wash and shaving cream all fall under this category. Gillette, for instance, took heat over the fact that its women’s razors cost more than those for men.
  • Dry cleaning: It costs more to dry clean women’s clothes than men’s.
  • Toys: Even for gender-neutral toys like bikes, scooters, backpacks, helmets and arts and crafts items, those marketed to girls cost more.
  • Clothes: Both women’s and girls’ clothing see a higher markup than those for boys and men.
  • Mortgages: Mortgages cost more for sole female borrowers, in part because they have weaker credit overall. But other studies show women default less on mortgages than men, even controlling for credit differences, all of which says single female borrowers are paying more than they should.
  • Haircuts: Women pay more for a haircut than men, even when their hair is the same length.
  • Senior/home health care products: Supports and braces, canes, compression socks, adult incontinence products and digestive health products cost more for senior women than senior men.

How to fight the pink tax

There are a few ways to fight back against this practice. The first is to turn your shopping dollars toward companies that are taking a stand against the pink tax. Boxed, for instance, has reduced the pricing on its women’s products so they’re the same price as the men’s. Billie, a subscription shaving company, claims to offer pricing that’s comparable to men’s razor subscriptions. Even Burger King has staged its own campaign against pink pricing.

Aside from supporting companies with gender-neutral pricing, you can choose not to buy products marketed specifically to women. But If you want your state to ban the pink tax altogether, get in touch with your state representatives. “Voice your outrage about it,” Strausfeld said. “The more people who call their state representatives, the more support these people have to put forward bills to remove the tax.” Find your government representatives here.

Prices are determined from the manufacturing cost combined with what customers are willing to pay. Brands spend a lot on marketing to make these products appealing and unfortunately, it works.

The funny thing is, particularly when it comes to clothing, that women’s products are often smaller and therefore should cost less to manufacture. However, the price is still higher, this is sometimes referred to as the ‘shrink it and pink it’ strategy. Make it smaller, market it towards women and charge a premium price.

What is being done about the Pink Tax?

Well, some companies have taken it upon themselves to remedy the pink tax. This includes UK retailers Tesco and Boots who cut the price of women’s razors in half.

In California, they’ve introduced a law that prevents gender-based price differences in services but not goods as of yet. The “tampon tax” has been taken to court with a class action lawsuit in the state of Ohio where plaintiffs are fighting for a refund of the tampon tax and the introduction of bills to get rid of the tax.

Canada, Kenya and India have tackled the so-called ‘tampon tax’ by either abolishing it entirely or drastically reducing the tax rates on feminine hygiene products.

Some changes have been made but we still have a long way to go before prices are made fairer on a global scale.

Want to Claim a Tax Refund?

What can I do to offset the Pink Tax and have more money in my pocket?

Taxback.com help customers claim tax back from 13 countries worldwide including Ireland, the UK, Luxembourg, Germany, Japan, the US, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Canada and New Zealand. We can help you claim back any overpaid tax and guide you through all of the tax reliefs that you can claim – meaning you get your maximum legal refund.

Cuomo wants to eliminate so-called ‘pink tax’ on women’s products

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he wants to eliminate the so-called “pink tax” in New York — or the higher price that some companies charge for women’s products as opposed to similar men’s merchandise.

As part of his 2020 State of the State address, Cuomo says, he will propose eliminating “gender-based pricing discrimination” on female and male products that are similar, such as razors or shampoo.

“For too long, women and girls faced social and economic discrimination in all aspects of their life, but in New York, we’re leading the fight for true gender equity,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Women shouldn’t be nickel-and-dimed their entire lives because of their gender — it’s discriminatory and repugnant to our values, and we’re putting an end to it,” the governor said.

Businesses also would be required to post price lists for standard services such as dry cleaning and face civil penalties if found to be gender-discriminatory, according to Cuomo.

A study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in 2015 compared prices of toys, clothing, personal-care and health products targeting women compared to those geared toward men. The results showed general female merchandise was priced 7 percent higher than men’s, while women’s personal products were priced 13 percent higher when compared to those for their male counterparts.

But Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, said, “There’s no way retailers are purposefully saying, ‘Let’s charge more.’ There’s more to it.

“This is why we look forward to having a discussion on what goes into the pricing of an article,” he said. “Is a white dress shirt for men the same as a white dress shirt for women? One could say yes, since they look the same, but then it comes down to the fabric, style and buttons that are used. I think there’s plenty of room for discussions on this.”

A related bill passed the state Assembly this session but died in the state Senate, thanks to opposition from both sides of the political aisle.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the 10th proposal of his 2020 State of the State agenda – eliminating the pink tax. In the early 1990s, several studies reported disparities between the costs of substantially similar goods and services depending on if they were marketed for men or for women. Despite increased public discourse around gender-based pricing discrimination, recent research indicates that the problem still persists. To address these disparities, the Governor will advance legislation to prohibit gender-based pricing discrimination for substantially similar or like kind goods and services. The legislation will require certain service providers to post price lists for standard services; businesses that violate the law would be subject to civil penalties.

“For too long women and girls faced social and economic discrimination in all aspects of their life, but in New York we’re leading the fight for true gender equity,” Governor Cuomo said. “Last year we made equal pay for equal work a reality and this year we’ll build on that progress by breaking down barriers that can prevent women from achieving financial success including the pink tax. Women shouldn’t be nickel and dimed their entire lives because of their gender – it’s discriminatory and repugnant to our values and we’re putting an end to it.”

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a study in 2015 that analyzed prices of toys, clothing, personal care products and home health products that were substantially similar and found that 42 percent of the time, products targeted towards women are more expensive than men’s. According to the data collected, women’s merchandise costs 7 percent on average more than similar items for men, with personal care products for women found to be priced 13 percent higher than men’s products. Because these products are purchased frequently, the study estimates that the compounding differences translate into a significant financial burden for women over the cost of their lifetime.

These cost differences have lasting consequences. Women will spend thousands more throughout the course of their lifetimes than men to get similar products, and these higher costs will disproportionately impact disposable incomes and savings. Additionally, the gender wage gap, which hinders female economic growth and falls more heavily on women of color, is only being exacerbated by these price disparities.

During his time in office, Governor Cuomo has demonstrated his commitment to reducing the gender wage gap. In 2016 the Governor signed legislation that prohibited a tax on menstrual products, making New York one of the first states to ban the so-called “tampon tax.” In 2019, the Governor signed a new law prohibiting employers from asking about or considering an applicant’s salary history when making hiring and promotion decisions, as well as legislation that mandates equal pay for substantially similar work.

Visualizing the Pink Tax – The Cost of Being a Woman

Across the U.S., women pay more than men for certain goods, such as clothes, home health products, and personal care products. This price difference is known as the “pink tax,” since many of these products are packaged in pink. In a country where women earn 80.5 cents for every dollar men make according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this type of price discrimination seems even more unfair.

Our latest visualization illustrates the breadth and depth of the “pink tax,” using data from a study commissioned by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). The DCA’s study estimated the price differences male and female shoppers face when buying the same types of items. The DCA derived an average price for 35 different product types based on an analysis of 794 individual items and then compared the prices of the analogous men’s and women’s products. To minimize differences between men’s and women’s items, the DCA selected products that had similar male and female versions and were closest in branding, ingredients, appearance, textile, construction, and/or marketing. Unlike the DCA’s report, our visualization does not include children’s products and only includes the categories of Adult Clothing, Toys and Accessories, Personal Care Products, and Senior/Home Health Care Products.

Top 10 Products That are Subject to the “Pink Tax”

1. Shampoo and conditioner: 48% more expensive for women
2. Personal urinals: 21% more expensive for women
3. Shirts: 15% more expensive for women
4. Supports and braces: 15% more expensive for women
5. Dress shirts: 13% more expensive for women
6. Helmets and pads: 13% more expensive for women
7. Canes: 12% more expensive for women
8. Lotion: 11% more expensive for women
9. Razor cartridges: 11% more expensive for women
10. Razors: 11% more expensive for women

According to the DCA and the visualization, there are only a few products that men pay more for. These products include underwear (29% more expensive), digestive health products (5% more expensive), and shaving cream (4% more expensive). Overall, the greatest price differential is in the personal care category, in which women pay 13% more for products than men. For both men and women, adult clothing tends to be the most expensive consumer product category.

Curious about other economic differences between the sexes? Here’s our visualization on how much more money American men earn than women at every age.

It’s a sad fact: Even in 2019, women are at an economic disadvantage compared to men.

For example, women are consistently paid less than men for the same work. Currently, women make 80.5 cents for every dollar a man earns, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. For women of color, the gap is even wider.

Women are also often charged a higher interest rate for mortgage loans, despite their consistently higher credit ratings.

Plus, the United States is one of only two countries that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. According to a report from the National Partnership for Women & Families, “a woman’s income loss during pregnancy or parental leave can have significant and even devastating consequences for her family.”

Women also have to deal with the pink tax.

What Is the Pink Tax?

The pink tax is the extra amount that women pay for everyday products like razors, shampoo, haircuts, clothes, dry cleaning, and more. This “tax” applies to items that span a woman’s entire life, from girls toys and school uniforms to canes, braces, and adult diapers.


The prices on individual products may not seem that different — say, $3.79 vs $3.99 for deodorant — but over time, these little increases can add up.

The pink tax costs women roughly $2,135 per year

In fact, according to axthepinktax.com, the pink tax has cost a 30-year-old woman more than $40,000. A woman in her 60s will cough up nearly $82,000 in fees that men don’t have to pay. Currently no federal law prohibits companies from charging different prices for identical items based on gender.

One particularly controversial part of the pink tax is known as the tampon tax, a fee women are charged for feminine hygiene products. Almost all U.S. states exempt non-luxury necessities like groceries and prescriptions, but all but ten charge tax on tampons and feminine pads — despite their necessity for most women.

Social media hashtags such as #genderpricing, #pinktax, and #AxThePinkTax have brought attention to the issue of gender-based pricing.

i don’t usually like getting political but #axthepinktax pic.twitter.com/vUQetd90vv

— Isabel Berry Womack (@carrieisabel17) October 19, 2018

What are Some Examples of the Pink Tax?

A 2015 study of gender-based pricing in New York City found these examples. Retailers often take pains to keep similar products with different prices separated so it’s not easy to notice the difference.

Walgreens Walgreens Walgreens Walgreen

On average, the study found that women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men, including 13 percent more for personal care products, 8 percent more for adult clothing, and 8 percent more for senior/home health care products.

How Long Has the Pink Tax Existed?

Since at least the early 1990s — that’s when California began to study the problem. A 1996 report from the state’s Assembly Office of Research found that 64 percent of the stores in five major California cities charged a higher price to wash and dry clean a woman’s blouse compared to a man’s button-up shirt. “ blatant examples of price discrimination based upon gender,” Elise Thuraue, senior consultant to Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, told the Palo Alto Weekly.

Based on the results of the study, California passed the state-wide Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, which says, in part, that “No business establishment of any kind whatsoever may discriminate, with respect to the price charged for services of similar or like kind, against a person because of the person’s gender.”

In 2013, Speier was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Three years later, she introduced a similar nation-wide bill to Congress. She reintroduced the bill banning the pink tax in 2019, but no official action has been taken.

How Do I Avoid Paying the Pink Tax?

The easiest way to avoid the pink tax is to comparison shop when you can. Check out the “men’s” versions of razors, shampoo, and other personal care products. Browse men’s basics like t-shirts, button-up shirts and socks—chances are, you’ll pay less for products of similar, or better, quality.

Also be on the lookout for stores and companies that advertise that they’re “Pink Tax Free” or offer unisex services.

What Brands Actively Fight the Pink Tax?

In 2016, the online wholesale company Boxed adjusted the prices of some of its personal care products to account for the pink tax. “Our team took a hard look at some of the products offered on Boxed and realized that many female products cost significantly more than their male equivalents,” Boxed CEO and founder Chieh Huang told PRNewsire. “This just didn’t make sense to our team, and we immediately decided this was an issue we wanted to help bring to the forefront and take action.” The company even created a “pink tax free” section of its website, listing all of the products, from tampons to body wash, that are discounted to gender neutral prices.

Shop Boxed’s Pink Tax-Free Section

Dry Protection Invisible Solid Degree boxed.com $7.91 Sensitive Skin Body Wash Dove boxed.com $9.89 Venus Sensitive Disposable Razors Gillette boxed.com $18.66 Skin Therapy Moisturizing Shave Gel Skintimate boxed.com $11.64

Billie, a subscription razor company, offers a referral discount that it calls The Pink Tax Rebate. “On behalf of the razor companies out there,” the company says on its website, “We’re sorry you’ve been overpaying for pink razors. It’s time you got some money back.”

Beth Dreher Features Director As the Features Director for Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping, Beth covers topics ranging from the opioid epidemic and mental health, to personal finance, women in politics, and more.

Pink Tax: The Real Cost of Gender-Based Pricing

Share on PinterestDesign by Brittany England and Diego Sabogal

If you shop at any online retailer or brick-and-mortar store, you’ll get a crash course in advertising based on gender.

“Masculine” products come in black or navy blue packaging with boutique brand names like Bull Dog, Vikings Blade, and Rugged and Dapper. If the products have a fragrance, it’s a muskier scent.

Meanwhile, “female” products are hard to miss: an explosion of pink and light purple, with an added dose of glitter. If scented, the fragrances are fruity and floral, like sweet pea and violet, apple blossom, and raspberry rain — whatever that is.

While scent and color are perhaps the most obvious difference between products traditionally aimed at men and women, there’s another, subtler difference: the price tag. And it’s costing those who buy products aimed at women significantly more.

The ‘pink tax’

Gender-based pricing, also known as “pink tax,” is an upcharge on products traditionally intended for women which have only cosmetic differences from comparable products traditionally intended for men.

In other words, it’s not actually a tax.

It’s an “income-generating scenario for private companies who found a way to make their product look either more directed to or more appropriate for the population and saw that as a moneymaker,” explains Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer, vice president for the Brennan School of Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-founder of Period Equity.

“I think the motivations around the pink tax come more explicitly from a classic capitalist stance: If you can make money off of it, you should,” she continues.

Yet pink tax is not a new phenomenon. Over the past 20 years, California, Connecticut, Florida, and South Dakota have released reports on gender pricing in their states. In 2010, Consumer Reports highlighted the matter nationally with a study that found, at the time, women paid as much as 50 percent more than men did for similar products.

The issue was delineated more finely in 2015 when the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs released a report about price disparities for 794 comparable products from 91 brands sold throughout the city.

The report examined five different industries, such as personal care products or senior/home healthcare products. These encompassed 35 product categories, such as bodywash or shampoo. In every single of those five industries, consumer goods marketed to women and girls cost more. The same was the case in all but five of the 35 product categories.

Researchers looked at 106 products in the toys and accessories category and found that, on average, those intended for girls were priced 7 percent higher.

The most egregious upcharges, however, were among personal care products.

For example, a five-pack of Schick Hydro cartridges in purple packaging cost $18.49, while the same count of Schick Hydro refills in blue packaging cost $14.99.

Again, other than their packaging color, the products look exactly the same.

NYC’s report found women faced an average price difference of 13 percent for personal care products among the 122 products compared in the study. And the authors aptly noted that these items, such as shaving gel and deodorant, are the ones purchased most frequently compared with other categories — meaning that the costs add up over time. While this is unfair for all those shopping for these products, that 13 percent price increase hits women and girls who come from lower income households even harder.

Legislative attempts, however, could correct the pink tax. In 1995, then-Assemblywoman Jackie Speier successfully passed a bill that forbade gender pricing of services, such as haircuts.

Now as a Congresswoman, Rep. Speier (D-CA) is going national: She reintroduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act this year to specifically address products subject to the pink tax. (An earlier version of the bill introduced in 2016 failed to make it out of committee). If the new bill passes, it would allow state attorneys general “to take civil action on consumers wronged by discriminatory practices.” In other words, they can go directly after businesses that charge men and women different prices.

The ‘tampon tax’

The pink tax isn’t the only upcharge that affects women. There’s also the “tampon tax,” which refers to the sales tax applied to feminine hygiene items such as pads, liners, tampons, and cups.

Currently, 36 states still apply sales tax to these necessary menstrual items, according to data from Weiss-Wolf’s organization Period Equity. The sales tax on these products vary and are based on the state’s tax code.

So what? You might wonder. Everyone pays sales tax. It seems fair that tampons and pads have a sales tax, too.

Not quite, said Weiss-Wolf. States establish their own tax exemptions, and in her book Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand for Menstrual Equity, she elaborates on some very not-so-necessary exemptions some states have.

“I went through every tax code in every state that didn’t exempt menstrual products to see what they did exempt, and the list is ridiculous,” Weiss-Wolf tells Healthline. The tax-exempt items, listed both in Weiss-Wolf’s book and ones Healthline tracked down, range from marshmallows in Florida to cooking wine in California. Maine is snowmobiles, and it’s barbecue sunflower seeds in Indiana and gun club memberships in Wisconsin.

If barbecue sunflower seeds are tax-exempt, argues Weiss-Wolf, then feminine hygiene products should be, too.

The tampon tax is often incorrectly referred to as a luxury tax, Weiss-Wolf explains. Rather, it’s an ordinary sales tax applied to all goods — but since only people who menstruate use feminine hygiene products, the tax disproportionately affects us.

Just like the upcharge on personal care items geared for women, the small amounts of sales tax we shell out every month to manage Aunt Flo adds up over a lifetime, and this adversely affects women from low-income households.

“This issue has real resonance for people,” Weiss-Wolf tells Healthline. “I think partly because the experience of menstruation is so universal for anybody who’s experienced it, as is the understanding that being able to manage it is so essential to one’s ability to participate fully in daily life and have a dignified existence.”

Both men and women of all political stripes understand that the “economics of menstruation,” as Weiss-Wolf calls it, is involuntary. Her group Period Equity took this issue nationwide in 2015 by partnering with Cosmopolitan magazine on a Change.org petition to “axe the tampon tax.” But sales tax must be addressed by advocates state by state.

And there’s a long way to go.

Five states — Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, and Oregon — don’t have a sales tax to begin with, so pads and tampons aren’t taxed there. Meanwhile, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania had previously legislated on their own to remove sales tax from these items, according to Periods Gone Public.

Since 2015, thanks to increased advocacy around period equity, 24 states have introduced bills to exempt pads and tampons from sales tax. However, only Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, and New York have been successful in making these sanitary necessities tax-exempt so far. That said, Arizona, Nebraska, and Virginia introduced tampon tax bills in their legislatures in 2018.

So, why has it taken this long to even have this conversation?

“The most realistic scenario is that most of our legislators don’t menstruate, so they weren’t really thinking about it in any sort of constructive way,” says Weiss-Wolf.

Making tampons and pads more accessible

In addition to the tampon tax, menstrual equity advocacy is really gaining steam around the accessibility of feminine hygiene products for homeless women and women in prisons and public schools.

“They’re as necessary as toilet paper,” said a City Councilwoman in 2016 when NYC voted to make feminine hygiene products free in schools, shelters, and jails. Reportedly 300,000 schoolgirls ages 11 to 18 and 23,000 women and girls living in shelters in NYC were affected by this groundbreaking bill.

Having access to these sanitary items grant dignity and enable women and girls to fully participate in society.

“Even in this current political environment, which is so toxic and so polarized… this is one area proven to transcend partisanship and have really strong support on both sides of the aisle,” says Weiss-Wolf.

This year, New York State voted to provide free feminine hygiene products in girls’ restrooms for grades 6 through 12.

“This issue has real resonance for people. I think partly because the experience of menstruation is so universal for anybody who’s experienced it, as is the understanding that being able to manage it is so essential to one’s ability to participate fully in daily life and have a dignified existence.” — Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

In 2015 and 2017, a Wisconsin lawmaker introduced a bill to make pads and tampons available for free at public schools, schools that use the state’s voucher program, and in government buildings. In Canada, a city councilor in Toronto proposed a similar bill for homeless shelters.

Countries leading the way

Menstrual equity has ways to go in the majority of America’s states, and we can look to other countries to for inspiration of what could be.

  • Kenya ditched its sales tax on feminine hygiene products in 2004 and has allocated millions towards distributing pads in schools in an effort to boost girls’ attendance.
  • Canada ditched its goods and services tax (similar to sales tax) on tampons in 2015. Australia voted to do the same just last month, although it needs further approval by individual territories.
  • A pilot program in Aberdeen, Scotland is distributing feminine hygiene products to women in low-income households as a test for a possible larger program.
  • The United Kingdom also eliminated the tampon tax, although there are Brexit-related reasons it won’t go into effect yet. To compensate, several major chains in the UK, such as Tesco, have cut prices on feminine hygiene products themselves.

The takeaway

The United States is finally having a long overdue discussion about the costs associated with our biology. As many of us have grown to love a floral-scented deodorant, there’s not much incentive for companies to stop making them different — but at least they can stop upcharging us for it.

And while having a period (and the cramps that go with it) may never be a pleasant experience, discussion around the economics of menstruation seems to be prompting more practicality and compassion for those that need products to manage it.

Jessica Wakeman is a writer and editor focusing on women’s political, social, and cultural issues. Originally from Connecticut, she studied journalism and gender and sexuality studies at NYU. She has previously been an editor at The Frisky, Daily Dot, HelloGiggles, YouBeauty, and Someecards, and has also worked for Huffington Post, Radar Magazine, and NYmag.com. Her writing has appeared in a number of print and online titles, including Glamour, Rolling Stone, Bitch, the New York Daily News, the New York Times Review of Books, The Cut, Bustle, and Romper. She’s on the board of directors of Bitch Media, a feminist media nonprofit. She resides in Brooklyn with her husband. See more of her work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

pink tax

Rare dDit

A pink tax is not charged by governments in the way that a sales tax or property tax is. Instead, a pink tax is a phrase used to describe the higher prices often found on items or services directed at women than equivalent products and services directed at men. The name for this pricing discrimination comes from the practice some manufacturers have of charging more for pink versions of items, although it is not always used this literally.

Researchers have used the term over the years to explain everything from why pain medication for menstrual cramps was priced higher than the same exact medication sold without the word “menstrual” on the bottle to price differences between primary colored scooters and the (more expensive, of course) pink versions. Because of the unfairness of forcing women to pay more for the exact same thing as a man, the pink tax has long been debated by feminists and consumer watchdog groups.

Pink tax became an issue of national debate in 2015 with the introduction of the Pink Tax Repeal Act by California Congresswoman Jackie Speier. The bill, which calls for elimination of gender-based pricing, is still making its way through Congress.

In 2018, Burger King highlighted the pink tax with the debut of “Chick Fries,” a Chicken Fries variant targeted at women that comes in a pink box and costs $3.09 vs. the regular $1.69 for the menu item. The brand’s press release said the goal was to spotlight the “unfair extra charge of pink tax.”

we all pay the price when women are charged more. that’s why we dropped the price of chicken fries to $1.69 for everyone. pic.twitter.com/0h3CtaxPaR

— Burger King (@BurgerKing) July 26, 2018


Is There Really a Pink Tax?

You’ve heard that women, on average, earn only 77 cents for every dollar men do. You have probably also heard that this is evidence of systemic discrimination.

But in earlier columns, and in this video, I argued that the 77 cents claim, while true, is not evidence that employers are discriminating against women, or that markets have somehow “failed.” Having shed some light on this idea, I thought the issue had been put safely to bed thanks to sound economic thinking.

But the idea is back — this time with a twist: pay disparity isn’t the only way in which markets discriminate against women. The latest contender is the so-called “pink tax,” perhaps best described in this video.

The idea is that sellers charge women more than men for the exact same product or service. What appears to be the same deodorant or razor is more expensive in the women’s version than in the men’s. Other examples include a whole variety of cosmetics, dry cleaning, and haircuts.

Is there, in fact, a “pink tax?” Are women being discriminated against on the spending side of the market as well as the earning side?

The first question we might ask is how economists determine if there is discrimination in a market, especially since we can’t get inside people’s heads to know their precise intentions. What we try to do is to figure out what all of the relevant variables are that might explain the differential outcome. So with the wage gap, we look at things like education, experience, and preferences for certain types of work. We try to adjust for differences between men and women and see if any gap remains. That is, if a man and a woman who were economically identical and differed only in their genitalia were doing the same job, would there be a pay gap?

If such differences persist even after we think we’ve accounted for all the factors that might explain the difference, then we tentatively conclude that the remaining gap might be due to discrimination. We also continue to look for factors we might have missed. Discrimination is our tentative conclusion only when all the economic explanations have been exhausted.

So how might we apply this process to the supposed pink tax?

First, what are the other explanations we might have for the price differentials? One question is whether the products being compared are, in fact, the same. Are there differences in the way they are produced, and might those production differences lead to price differences? Perhaps women’s haircuts cost more than men’s because they are more complicated or require more skill on the part of the service provider. Perhaps women’s clothes cost more to dry clean because they have, on average, more embellishments or other aspects of the fabric that require more care by the dry cleaner. We might call both men’s and women’s shirts “shirts,” but that doesn’t make them the same thing for the purposes of dry cleaning them. The same goes for haircuts.

A second kind of explanation might rely on subjective differences. After all, economic value is always, in the end, subjective. Things are valuable to us because we believe, for whatever reason, that they will contribute to the satisfaction of our various ends. So perhaps women are willing to pay more for a particular cosmetic product because they have a strong preference for how it smells, or some other feature of the good that does not matter as much to men.

Even the pink tax video narrator says, at the end, that if she wants to avoid the pink tax, she will “just have to smell like a man.” That statement suggests that not only do men’s and women’s products differ objectively (in that they smell different); it also implies that women might care about how the products smell more than men do.

Subjective value might apply to personal services, too. If getting that haircut “just right” matters more to women than to men, women will be willing to pay more for it, hair dressers will be willing to spend more time on women’s haircuts, and women will be more attached to particular service providers than men are. Women’s haircuts may also take longer in general and be more involved.

What we might be seeing here is what economists call “price discrimination.” That word “discrimination” has all kinds of negative connotations (and those are invoked at the end of the pink tax video), but it this context, it simply means “differentiation.” The economic definition of price discrimination is selling the identical product to different people at different prices that are not related to cost.

We see price discrimination all the time and find it harmless. Examples include student or senior citizen discounts at the movies, cheaper flights if you buy tickets in advance rather than the day before, and the differential amounts of financial aid students get at the same college. One of the reasons we find price discrimination harmless is that we are not “taxing” those who pay the higher price, but instead enabling more people to consume the good by offering a discount to various groups.

Often, price discrimination takes place because the different groups have different price elasticities for the product. That’s a fancy way of saying that they are more or less price sensitive. For example, last-minute air travelers are often businesspeople who have to be somewhere fast, so they are less concerned about price.

Our sensitivity to price is often related to how many substitutes there are for the good in question, and how close we perceive those substitutes to be. The more, and the closer, the substitutes, the more price sensitive people will be, and the more likely firms are to lower the price for them. If it’s true that men perceive that many of these products (especially the cosmetics) are more easily substituted for each other, then men will be less willing to pay higher prices than women. Unsurprisingly, firms respond by pricing accordingly.

So is this really a “pink tax” or is it a “blue discount?” And is it really that firms are somehow punishing women, or is it that women’s preferences are such that they are willing to pay more to get exactly the product they want?

Finally, it’s interesting that the call here is for sellers to cut their prices for women, rather than raise their prices for men. We see the same phenomenon with the wage gap, where it’s always a reason to raise women’s wages and not to cut men’s wages. Is the goal here really “equality,” or is it to use the force of law to cut prices and raise wages?

Does seeing the pink tax as generally harmless price discrimination resulting from the nature of men’s and women’s preferences mean all such price differentials are not true gender discrimination? It does not. There may be differentials that we can’t explain and we might tentatively conclude that there appears to be discrimination. But that means we have to keep looking for alternative explanations. The differentials are unexplained — but not necessarily unjust.

Before we conclude injustice, we have to make sure we’ve exhausted all the explanations economics can offer.

But all hell breaks loose if an end to the tampon tax is proposed – even though a study published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that two out of three low-income women in the U.S. couldn’t afford menstrual products at least once each year. The study also found that tax breaks on tampons are extremely beneficial for low-income women.

Despite this growing body of research that it costs way more to live as a woman than a man, proposals to eliminate tampon taxes or other pink taxes don’t get very far.

In New York, where a tax on menstrual products was eliminated, the state has recorded a $14 million loss in tax revenue as a result. In California, former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in 2016 that would have eliminated the state’s tampon tax for fear that the state would lose $20 million in annual taxes.

The Pink Tax in Action

What does the pink tax look like in action?

At Target, a red Radio Flyer “My 1st Scooter” marketed at boys retailed for $24.99. The “My 1st Scooter Sparkle”, the same Radio Flyer but painted pink with glitter, retailed for $49.99.

Until, that is, the DCA study came out.

When questioned about the price difference between the two Radio Flyer scooters, Target referred to the extra $25 cost of the pink scooter as a “system error”. The retailer now sells both scooters for $29.99.

Even children’s short-sleeved uniform t-shirts showed a gender price difference, with boys’ tops retailing for $10.95, while girls’ tops retailed for $12.95. Anyone have a clue why the girl version costs $2 extra?

The gender-based price difference is even more blatant when it comes to adult clothing.

Women’s clothing costs more than men’s clothing in six of seven categories! The only category where men pay more than women is underwear – men typically pay $2.44 more for underwear than women. However, women are paying more than a $2.44 difference when it comes to dress pants, dress shirts, sweaters, jeans, shirts, and socks.

It’s not just retailers though that pass along costs onto female consumers, for really no other reason than to boost their own bottom line. It’s also service providers like dry cleaners and car repair shops that are guilty of charging women more than men.

Suzanne McGee knows all too well the additional cost that’s incurred when a female goes to the dry cleaners. “I’ve been hit with the pink tax again,” she wrote in a column for The Guardian. “I knew it was coming; I should have been prepared with better arguments. But I couldn’t avoid it…I ended up getting charged $7 for cleaning my ‘female’ shirt and not the $3.25 a man would have been charged.”

To prove her theory, McGee had a male friend return to the dry cleaner with an identical shirt to see how much he would be charged to have the same plain, cotton, long-sleeved shirt dry cleaned. McGee’s male friend was charged just $3.25, while McGee had been charged $7 to dry-clean the same top.

Mortgages, Cars, and Loans

While it’s illegal for your gender to play a role in determining your mortgage rate, there’s a slew of studies showing women pay higher mortgage rates than men in relation to their risk of defaulting.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, because income was once a determining factor in one’s ability to obtain credit, women were often denied as a result of earning less than men.

A similar trend was found in the small loans market. Studies found that women were rejected more than men when applying for loans. When women were approved, they were given smaller loans, but because so many women feared being rejected, most didn’t apply for loans in the first place, the Times reported.

A similar occurrence happens in the auto industry.

It sounds cliché, but a study from Northwestern found that women who acted uninformed when asking about having a radiator replaced were charged more. Women were quoted at $406 for a service that should cost around $365. Men who acted unfamiliar with the repair, just as the women had done, were quoted $383 for the same service, the study found.

No Evidence of Discrimination?

In 2015, New York officials concluded that because the pink tax is largely unavoidable, it’s a “greater financial burden for female consumers than for male consumer”.

Consumers don’t control the textiles or ingredients used in the products marketed to them, the DCA report noted. Additionally, consumers can only make purchasing decisions based on what’s available in the marketplace.

However, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded differently.

Because there isn’t a law preventing companies from charging different prices for men and women’s versions of products, and companies have a legal right and responsibility to maximize profits, the GAO couldn’t conclude the gender price disparity was unfair.

The GAO even argued that “it’s up to consumers to understand any price differences”.

I may have been able to let that ill-informed conclusion slide if they hadn’t added this part: Concerns about gender discrimination were not studied due to “very few complaints”.

Stop Paying the Pink Tax!

Until the gender pay gap and gender tax are eliminated, is there anything we can do to try to level the playing field economically?

To start, you can choose to purchase the men’s version of many personal-care products in order to save money. Or, if you’re like me and prefer to stick to feminine versions, many female-centric online retailers now offer pink tax-free personal-care products via subscription services. This way you can save money and still enjoy a pink razor.

The other thing we can do is use our voices on social media especially to speak up.

When you’re shopping, check to see if there’s a price difference between the women’s and men’s versions. If there is, look to see if the size and ingredients are comparable. If they’re the same, take a picture of both products and use the hashtag #AxThePinkTax.

Some companies who’ve become aware of the price discrepancies of their own products have made changes to level the economic playing field.

Author: Katie Utterback

Curious is one word to describe Katie Utterback, a former investigative reporter, who fashioned a microphone from cardboard at a young age and perused her neighborhood with a hand-held camcorder looking for stories to share with the world. Katie now uses her writing skills to further improve financial literacy in the Greater San Diego area, while sharing insights from her own debt-free journey at DebtWave Credit Counseling.

The ‘Tampon Tax’ Outrage Is Overblown

Cosmopolitan magazine wants the United States to stop taxing tampons. So does Gloria Steinem.

Prompted by an op-ed from Cosmo writer Prachi Gupta and a subsequent Change.org petition co-sponsored by the magazine itself which demands that U.S. legislators “Stop Taxing our Periods,” the so-called “tampon tax” has become the mainstream feminist issue du jour. On Twitter, Cosmo is lobbying hard over the tax, asking readers to tell the government that they’ve “had enough.”

The demand to end the “tampon tax” in the U.S. comes hot on the heels of similar efforts in Canada, where the tax was ended in July, and in the U.K., Australia, and France, where the pertinent taxes are still in place despite recent public outcry. Last week, France voted down a measure to reduce value-added tax (VAT) on feminine hygiene products, causing French feminists to, in their words, “see red.”

But the “tampon tax” isn’t really a tampon tax in the United States—it is sales tax that, in most states, applies to tampons. And although the case can certainly be made that feminine hygiene products should be exempt from sales tax, presenting the issue as an obvious and pressing instance of discrimination is a little misleading given the bizarre nuances of state tax codes.

“ relief of the tampon tax would send a clear, top-down message that society needs to reevaluate how we treat women,” Gupta writes, as if the “tampon tax” battle should be at the vanguard of feminist activism.

But that “top-down” message might not be so clear in an effort that would realistically require 40 separate statewide campaigns to sort out all of the weird inconsistencies in their respective sales tax codes, motivated by the promise of—as Gupta concedes—“pennies on the dollar.”

In June of this year, Fusion reported on the 40 states that “tax women for having periods,” as the headline pointedly put it. But as Gupta notes partway through her Cosmo op-ed, “in many states, there are even sales taxes on essential items like toilet paper and incontinence pads.” In light of this fact, she acknowledges that there isn’t “some explicit anti-tampon conspiracy” and yet the Cosmo petition, like Fusion’s headline, frames the “tampon tax” issue as if state lawmakers were directly targeting menstruation.

“cross the U.S., a whopping 40 states increase the financial burden of menstruation by charging sales tax on these essential items,” the petition reads.

To be extra clear, there is no additional tax imposed on tampons but they are not exempt from most states’ sales taxes. The overall effect—women are taxed more for buying sanitary products that men don’t need—may be the same but this distinction is important when calculating a political response, especially because the sales taxes that make tampons more costly often apply to other necessary personal health-care products as well.

In New York, for example, the state’s tax code for drugstores and pharmacies (PDF) notes that feminine hygiene products are “generally subject to sales tax” because they are “used to control a normal bodily function and to maintain personal cleanliness.” Also taxed in New York state are soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper—all items required to “maintain personal cleanliness,” albeit not in as gendered of a fashion.

By contrast, however, the handful of states that do let tampon-users off the hook often have exemptions for several other personal hygiene products, not just those of the feminine variety.

In addition to the five U.S. states that do not charge a state-level sales tax, five states—Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—have exempted feminine hygiene products from their sales taxes.

Not coincidentally, two of these states—New Jersey and Pennsylvania—are the only two in the country that also specifically exempt toilet paper. The Pennsylvania tax code, for example, exempts “disposable diapers, incontinence products, toilet paper” right alongside feminine hygiene products. Among other products, New Jersey exempts toilet paper, diapers, acne cream, and even medicated lip balm from its sales tax.

The other three “tampon tax” holdouts permit a wide range of hygienic products beyond the menstrual realm to be bought tax-free. Massachusetts exempts “health care items” including tampons, diapers, and hearing aids. Minnesota’s health product exemptions (PDF) cover kidney dialysis equipment, breast pumps, and wheelchair lifts as well as tampons and sanitary napkins. For Maryland, the list of exemptions includes baby oil and baby powder.

Tampons are never singled out for exemption. The distinction here seems to be between states that tax a certain degree of essential hygiene products, and those that don’t.

States outside of the “tampon tax” holdouts, by contrast, often tax items that no human could do without. Florida taxes toilet paper, causing one Sun Sentinel columnist to personally campaign for an exemption for the last two years. His lone petition drew a mere 89 supporters. This May, New York lawmakers announced that they, too, would try to tackle the state’s aforementioned taxes on tampons and toilet paper.

In fact, all but seven states tax toilet paper—when states without sales taxes are factored in—but “toilet paper tax” outrage doesn’t garner nearly as much social media momentum as “tampon tax” petitions do, and perhaps rightly so.

But if the logic behind fighting the “tampon tax” is that people shouldn’t be taxed for any items that are “a necessity,” as Cosmo’s petition puts it, then targeting tampons alone is too narrow of a goal. If, on the other hand, the argument is that any hygienic items used exclusively by one gender should be exempt from sales tax, that’s a different campaign altogether, and one that would require some complicated reconfiguring of tax codes, even in the states that exempt tampons: Massachusetts taxes pregnancy tests, New Jersey taxes breast pumps, New York taxes vaginal creams, the list goes on.

In her Cosmo article, Gupta does acknowledge in passing that “state tax codes are notoriously complicated,” but the devil is in those details. The more time one spends digging through boring state tax codes, the blurrier the “taxing our periods” narrative becomes. That doesn’t mean that tampons shouldn’t be exempt from sales tax but it does show that what feminist critics call the “tampon tax” is sometimes less targeted than is suggested.

Take, for example, the 10 states identified by Money this year that do not exempt tampons from sales tax but do exempt soda or candy. Ridiculous, right? That shocking juxtaposition has been used by second-wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem to plug Cosmo’s petition. But the crucial clarification here is that many states exempt groceries from sales tax and a subset of these states consider soda and candy to be groceries (PDF).

The problem, then, is not necessarily a patriarchal privileging of candy over feminine hygiene but a refusal to see tampons, toilet paper, and other personal hygiene products as being comparable to food in terms of necessity. That’s less of a feminist issue, specifically, and more of a public health issue with a feminist bent.

In countries where the “tampon tax” debate has progressed further than it has in the United States, these complications have come to light.

In Australia, Guardian columnist Eleanor Robertson responded to her country’s “tampon tax” controversy by observing that the goods and services tax (GST) also applies to other necessities that are disproportionately required by some groups and not others: “Toilet paper attracts GST, and women use more toilet paper than men; shouldn’t toilet paper be exempt from GST? What about nappies, an essential item that’s far more expensive than tampons, the costs of which are borne exclusively by families with young children?”

Feminist energies, Robertson argued, would be better spent making menstrual supplies more accessible to homeless women rather than “zooming in on the tampon tax.”

Canada, which eliminated taxes on feminine hygiene products this summer after a petition acquired almost 75,000 signatures, still taxes toilet paper and toothpaste.

And in the U.K., where the VAT on feminine hygiene products was reduced from 20 to 5 percent in 2000, there are now renewed demands to eliminate it altogether, with a Change.org petition addressed to David Cameron’s government sitting at nearly a quarter of a million signatures. But as the BBC reported in February, the 5 percent VAT isn’t specific to tampons. Also taxed at 5 percent are mobility aids for the elderly, children’s car seats, and nicotine patches. Still at 20 percent: toilet paper, of course.

It’s true that 100 percent of the population requires toilet paper while a particular half of it also requires feminine hygiene products—an unassailable foundation for feminist advocacy. When it comes to personal hygiene products, however, state tax codes are often messy, inconsistent, and strange. There is certainly some mystifying and, yes, potentially sexist decision-making involved in how these exemptions are determined.

But this is not a state-sanctioned war on periods, even if it the “tampon tax” ultimately proves to be worth fighting.

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A bill in California calling for lawmakers to exempt tampons and sanitary pads from the state sales tax got a big endorsement this week from the board that administers the state’s sales taxes.

A few other states — Utah, Virginia and New York — have introduced similar bills.

The issue of the “tampon tax” has gained prominence over the past year. Like groceries, a necessity of life that most states exempt from sales tax, tampons are also a necessity and likewise should be tax free, advocates say.

” is a condition that happens every month for women. It’s not a choice,” said Fiona Ma, a CPA who sits on California’s Board of Equalization that now supports making tampons tax-free.

Some say the tax unfairly adds to the economic burden of women, who studies suggest may get paid less than men in comparable positions and may be charged higher prices for similar items and services.

Others suspect that taxing tampons is just another example of gender bias. Even President Obama seems to subscribe to that theory. When asked in a recent interview if he felt it was right that tampons are taxed, he said, “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when these were passed.”

But those arguments ignore the reality of how U.S. state sales tax laws work.

Related: U.S. gender pay gap is getting worse

For starters, there are many “necessities” (including most personal hygiene products) that are subject to state sales taxes in most of the 45 states that impose them.

“We tax toilet paper. We tax soap. We tax most things. I don’t think this is a plot to burden women,” said Kim Rueben, a state and local public financing senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

That’s because sales tax statutes typically just say that all goods are subject to tax, and then list only the exemptions that lawmakers have intentionally carved out for any number of reasons.

A big one is the idea that the poor shouldn’t have to pay tax on things they must buy to survive. But exempting an item gives a tax break to everyone else who buys it as well.

In an ideal tax system, policy experts say, everything would be subject to a very low sales tax rate. Then to make sure the poor aren’t harmed, they could be given an advance tax credit or rebate to cover their sales tax burden.

Related: How you’ll benefit from the new tax deal

Sales taxes are inconsistent: Decisions about what is and isn’t subject to state sales taxes are often highly subjective, if not plain “goofy” as Tax Analysts deputy publisher David Brunori put it.

Food may be a necessity, but not all types of food are tax exempt. Unsalted nuts may be, but salted ones might not be. Some states tax candy, while others exempt it. Shampoo is taxable, but it may not be if it fights dandruff.

In California, hot prepared foods are taxable, but cold prepared foods are not, Ma said.

Vivian Ericson, a legislative aide to Cristina Garcia, who introduced the California bill, makes the case that tampons should be treated as a health product. States typically exempt prescription drugs from taxes, but non-prescription health products can sometimes be exempt too, such as walkers, she noted.

But if “necessary health product” is the standard, then one could also argue toilet paper — and soap and plenty of other items — also qualify.

Money is always a consideration: California’s Board of Equalization estimates that exempting tampons and pads from tax will reduce revenue by $20 million a year. That’s a pittance relative to the more than $100 billion collected by the state annually.

But last year the board did not support another bill calling for the state to exempt diapers from tax, Ma said. Why? “It was a big ask.”

The bottom line for states: They need a steady, sufficient revenue base. And the default is to tax all goods.

The more items are exempted, the more the state needs to figure out where else to get the money.

“It can be a zero-sum game,” Brunori said. To make up for the lost revenue, he explained, “You either end up raising the sale tax or other taxes.”

CNNMoney (New York) First published January 29, 2016: 11:37 AM ET

Tampons, Jaffa Cakes, and razors: we pay no VAT on some of these items

“Jaffa Cakes are zero-rated. I am not a fan of Jaffa Cakes—let it be known that if I am offered a Jaffa Cake, I will refuse. I do not consider them to be essential to my life; I can give or take them. I recognise that razors are zero-rated, and judging by many Conservative Members the opportunity to shave every day is a human right. They are cleanly shaven, and I am sure they would be concerned to be charged a higher rate of VAT. Pitta bread is zero-rated—we can probably all agree that that is a necessity. What is the kebab without a good pitta bread around it? It is a necessity.”

Stella Creasy MP, 26 October 2015

A number of MPs have called for an end to the “tampon tax”, arguing that tampons and other sanitary products are essential items and so VAT shouldn’t have to be paid on them.

Currently they’re subject to a VAT rate of 5%, reduced from the standard rate of 20%.

No VAT is paid on cakes, on the other hand. After no small amount of controversy it’s been determined that Jaffa Cakes count as cakes, despite having “characteristics of both cakes and biscuits”, and so we don’t need to pay VAT on them.

Razor blades, on the other hand, are taxed at the standard 20% rate. We’ve also asked HM Revenue & Customs, who confirmed that. We’ve asked Ms Creasy’s office to comment.

And in the case of pitta bread, it’s complicated. If you buy it at the supermarket you pay no VAT, as with other bread. But if it’s part of a hot take-away meal (wrapped around a kebab for instance) it’ll be taxed at 20%.

EU rules mean that VAT rates can’t be lowered below 5%. Categories of products that were already taxed below this rate prior to 1991—like cakes and bread—can continue to be taxed at that lower rate (0%, in practice).

The government says that all 28 EU countries would have to agree to any changes to the rules. The authorisation for the EU to make rules on this at all comes from an article of the EU treaties that requires them to be passed “unanimously”.

By Laura O’Brien