SAN ANTONIO – If you are a woman, chances are you’re paying what’s known as a “pink tax.”
Shopping studies have shown that many products marketed to women often cost more than nearly identical products marketed to men.
Take the personal products aisle. Perusing four chain drug, grocery and discount stores revealed women pay more for their bare essentials like shampoo and razors.
For example, a bottle of Nivea moisturizing body wash for women was taller and curvier than the men’s counterpart, but the amount was the same. But more than the scents were different. The men’s product costs $5.79, but the women’s version cost $5.99.
Comparing the men’s and ladies’ Dove antiperspirant, the active ingredients were exactly the same. The prices were not. The men’s product costs $5.99 and the women’s costs 80 cents more. And with his, you get a bit more.
Dove also markets oxygen shampoos for men and women. Hers cost a dollar more than his.
Shaving products showed some of the biggest disparities. A four-pack of Comfort Advance Bic razors for men’s sensitive skin cost $6.49. The four-pack of Bic Soleil for ladies, also with three blades for sensitive skin, had orange and yellow handles instead of navy blue. The ladies package also cost a dollar more.
A box of Schick’s Hydro cartridges for men cost $15.49, but the ladies’ Hydro cartridges were $20.99.
“The practice is so pervasive and so common that I think a lot of consumers don’t question it or aren’t even fully aware of it,” said Charlene Davis Ph.D., professor of marketing at Trinity University.
Two face lotions from Neutrogena that contained the same active ingredients showed more than a $7 price difference. The men’s Triple Protect Face Lotion was $5.89, while the Visibly Even daily moisturizer was $13.29. The product do contain different inactive ingredients and the men’s has a lower SPF.
The company explained the products are “different types of moisturizers with different ingredients,” adding that the differences in formulations can impact the manufacturing process and pricing.
“Additionally, pricing variations among product lines are affected by packaging differences and business decisions by individual retailers,” Neutrogena’s statement said.
The full statement reads:
"NEUTROGENA(r) VISIBLY EVEN(r) Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 and NEUTROGENA MEN(r) Triple Protect Face Lotion SPF 20 are different types of moisturizers with different ingredients. These differences account for modifications in the formulation that impact the manufacturing process and can also impact product pricing. Importantly, VISIBLY EVEN(r) Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 is formulated with our Helioplex(r) technology, which is specifically engineered to deliver superior UV protection from the sun that is both broad spectrum and photostable. The use of this special formulation in VISIBLY EVEN(r) Daily Moisturizer impacts the manufacturing process. Additionally, pricing variations among product lines are affected by packaging differences and business decisions by individual retailers."
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs studied it. Pricing approximately 800 items, the results showed women paid more 42 percent of the time. Men paid more 18 percent of the time.
And on average, women paid 7 percent more for their gender-specific products.
A separate California study found that women end up paying about $1,300 a year more for their products than a man does.
The practice also extends to the toy aisle.
A bicycle helmet that rang up “boy’s helmet” cost $21.99. The same brand and model, but for a girl, cost $22.99.
Why the price differences?
“Why? Because the companies can do it and get away with it,” Davis said.
She allowed that there are some instances where there are legitimate cost-based reasons that a product may be priced higher.
However, she said companies will charge the price consumers have shown they are willing to pay.
“We’re almost conditioned to accept it,” she said. “So even if we are aware of it, it’s, ‘Well, it must cost more for this brand to make lotion for my face as opposed to making it for a man.’”
For women who say there is nothing they can do about it, Davis suggests they can vote with their purse.
“If the price discrepancy bothers us, don’t buy it,” she said. “That’s one piece. And tell the company why.”
When Consumer Reports studied the issue of gender pricing a few years ago, manufacturers told them that different formulas lead to higher prices and the retailer can also affect the price.
Of course, women do have another option: buy the men’s products.