That’s the number that the state of California came up with back in 1994 when it studied how much more women pay for services than men in a given year. It’s old data, and it doesn’t include the price women and girls pay for more expensive products, but the number has stayed with American women, engraved in our minds as yet another marker of the costs of being born female.
In fact, when discussing the issue with a colleague, she told me her nail salon, European Wax Center, had offered women 13.51 percent off of everything in the month of April in a nod to the famous dollar figure.
This differential in prices for products and services for men and women is called the “pink tax.” (And no, it isn’t really a tax.) The pink tax includes everything from the extra cost to dry clean a blouse compared to a man’s shirt to the extra cost of a girls’ pink scooter versus a boys’ blue one. It’s called the pink tax because women’s products are often pink.
In 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs “compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold at two dozen New York City retailers, both online and in stores.” Their findings: Women’s products cost 7 percent more than similar products for men.
Specifically, the study found:
“• 7 percent more for toys and accessories
• 4 percent more for children’s clothing
• 8 percent more for adult clothing
• 13 percent more for personal care products
• 8 percent more for senior/home health care products”
Women’s products cost more 42 percent of the time, while men’s cost more 18 percent of the time. That’s pretty discouraging when you consider that women are also paid less for the same work.
So I headed to a major local retailer to see if I could spot the pink tax in action. And … well, that’s harder than you might think. For one thing, it’s difficult to tell if you’re comparing apples to apples. Are the Bic Soleil Bella razors for women, priced at $4.89, the equivalent of the men’s Bic Flex4 razors, priced at $5.19? Or are those razors more like the women’s Bic Soleil Balance razors, priced at $5.39?
Were the little boys’ blue shoes I found for $14.99 the same as the little girls’ shoes I saw for $19.99? They were the same brand, and quite similar, but the girls’ shoe was sparkly. Does that cost more to make?
I thought I hit the jackpot in kids’ bikes when I spotted a boys’ Cars Huffy bike for $79.99, a girls’ Minnie Mouse Huffy bike for $84.99, a girls’ Frozen Huffy bike for $89.99 and a girls’ Huffy Disney Princess bike for $94.99. But the Star Wars Huffy bike, which featured a boy on the front and more masculine colors on the box, was $94.99. So were those prices a reflection of branding fees or the pink tax?
Similarly, in clothing, I found a basic women’s tee cost $8, while a basic men’s cost $7. But they were different brands.
I’ve heard one of the most glaring price differences is in face creams, so I decided to check. But while I found a whole aisle of women’s face creams, I didn’t find any marketed to men — though I did stumble upon a rather impressive assortment of beard creams.
What struck me most wandering this store wasn’t the price differentials — though I’m sure they add up. Rather, it was all the money that many women are either required to spend, or pressured to spend, on expensive products that men don’t need to worry about.
Face cream? That’s a lady thing.
Make up? No need, fellas.
A variety of pricey hair products? Please.
And sure, we’re told, women don’t have to buy beauty products. It’s completely optional. But that’s not entirely honest. In 2016, Fortune reported on a study by sociologists Jaclyn Wong of the University of Chicago and Andrew Penner of the University of California at Irvine. The two found that women who are better-groomed (including wearing makeup) earn more money.
“For example,” the article notes, “a well-groomed woman of average attractiveness makes about $6,000 more annually than an average-looking, averagely-groomed woman. She also makes about $4,000 more than her better-looking, but less put-together coworker.”