Women face some unique financial challenges. Not only do they earn less—about 21 percent less than men, on average, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, but they’re often charged more for products that are very similar to those sold to men.

Last Friday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) aimed to put an end to pricing products according to gender. She introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act—a bill that would prohibit companies from charging different prices for similar products or services simply based on the gender of the customer.

Consumers Union, the advocacy and policy arm of Consumer Reports, along with the Consumer Federation of America and other organizations supports the legislation.

"Price discrimination by gender is unacceptable. Yet, as Consumer Reports has found, products directed at women—through packaging, description, or name—can cost significantly more than similar products for men," said Laura MacCleery, Vice President of Consumer Policy and Mobilization for Consumer Reports. "We are proud to support Congresswoman Speier's legislation because all consumers deserve a marketplace where they can trust that they're getting a fair price." 

From Scooters to Razor Blades

The pink tax is pervasive across many products and services. After comparing nearly 800 products across five industries (children’s toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care products, and home health care products for seniors) the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that 42 percent of the time the versions aimed at women cost more than similar products from the same manufacturers sold for men. Products aimed at men, by comparison, cost more 18 percent of the time and there was no difference in sale prices between the sexes 40 percent of the time.

Overall, the Department of Consumer Affairs reported that on average, women pay 7 percent more than men; the price gap is nearly double that for personal care products.

The difference in prices applies to males and females of all ages. In its report, From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer, published in December, the Department of Consumer Affairs points to a gender-neutral scooter, called the Red Radio Flyer My 1st Scooter that was listed for $24.99 at Target. At the same time, Target was selling the Radio Flyer Girls My 1st Scooter Sparkle-Pink version but for $49.99. The report found that on average girls’ toys cost more 55 percent of the time, while boys’ products cost more 8 percent of the time. 

There were similar pink tax pricing issues when it came to adult products. The Schick Hydro 5 Cartridge Razor Refills for men sold for $14.99 at Walgreens.com in November, while Schick Hydro Silk for Women cartridges sold for $18.49.

Women also pay more than men for car purchases and repairs, mortgages, haircuts, and dry cleaning as well as products that include lotions, shampoo and other hair care products, according to a report from the Office of the Attorney General and the Human Rights Commission in Vermont.

In late June, Vermont’s Attorney General along with the state’s Human Rights Commission issued guidelines on how businesses should incorporate gender-neutral factors when setting prices.

While Speier has now presented her pink tax repeal proposal to the U.S. House of Representatives, it's unlikely that the bill will pass this year, given that Congress has little time left on its calendar. But by building support now, a future Congress might be more likely to eventually pass it. Speier was also behind the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995 in which California banned gender price discrimination for consumer services such as haircuts and dry cleaning. A bill to extend that law to cover consumer products was introduced in the state Senate but later pulled from consideration after business groups said that the bill could lead to unnecessary litigation and higher prices.

“The pink tax is largely marketing driven, but public policy also plays a role,” says Lori Taylor, director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government & Public Service. A study Taylor co-authored, Fairer Trade: Removing Gender Bias in Import Taxes, found that on average, even tariffs paid for women’s goods are higher than those for men. For example, the tax on imported clothing for men is 11.9 percent on average, compared to 15.1 percent for imported women’s clothing.

“There can be a good rationale why the tax burden is different based on a product. And there can be a good rationale for why the tax burden is different based on the country that a good is manufactured in. But I can’t come up with any rationale for why taxes are different based on gender,” says Taylor.

What You Can Do

If you think it's unfair that the prices you pay can be based on your gender, contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support the Pink Tax Repeal Act.

And when you're in the store, be sure to comparison shop. “As a rule, the man’s version or a neutrally-branded product is going to be less costly than the womens or girls version,” says Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. “Consider buying products that aren’t specifically labeled for the use of women.”