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'Pink Tax' forces women to pay more than men

A woman reacts as she listens to a speaker during a rally at the Women's March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017.
Jessica Rinaldi | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
A woman reacts as she listens to a speaker during a rally at the Women's March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017.

The "Pink Tax" has many women seeing red when it comes to gender inequity.

Whether it's razors, dry cleaning or toys, women still pay more for those gender-specific items than men, studies show. As Women's History Month draws to a close, gender-based pricing remains a stubborn issue that is yet to be solved, right along with equal pay for equal work.

"Price discrimination adds another layer to the wage inequality women face, making it harder sometimes for women to make ends meet," said Surina Khan, CEO of the Women's Foundation of California, a group devoted to advancement of gender equality. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in the decade between 2004 and 2014, women earned 80% to 83% as much as men.

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The Pink Tax, so named because of the color of products directly marketed to girls and women, refers to the price difference for female-specific products compared with the gender-neutral goods or those marketed to men. And even though the issue has been around for decades, it is still profound.

In late 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs published a study comparing nearly 800 products from more than 90 brands, looking for price differences in items marketed to different genders. On average, products for women or girls cost 7% more than comparable products for men and boys. For example:

Apparel. Girls' clothing cost 4% more than boys, and women's clothing cost 8% more than men's. A side-by-side comparison of red, short-sleeve polo shirts used as uniforms showed a $2 difference despite there being no obvious difference in style or quality. Both came from the same retailer.

• Toys. Girls' toys and accessories cost an average of 7% more than boys' toys. Separately, a side-by-side comparison of two Radio Flyer My 1st Scooters showed this: A red scooter cost $24.99 and a pink scooter cost $49, despite them being identical in all other ways.

Personal care. Women's personal care products also cost 13% more than men's, according to the department's study.

Normally, consumers look to supply and demand to remedy inequities. If prices get to high on a product or service, someone finds out how to provide it cheaper. But "not all markets are perfect," said Michael Cone, a customs attorney who filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of International Trade in 2007 that raised the broader question of whether different tariff rates for men's and women's apparel violate constitutional equal protection provisions. The case was dismissed, but discussion around the issue goes on.

There can be reasons to explain the differences. Service providers say that women's dry cleaning and haircuts tend to be more labor and time intensive, which is why women are willing to pay higher prices. Dry cleaners who use pressing machines, traditionally built for men's shirts, need to hand press women's shirts, a more labor-intensive, and costly, process. Women's often smaller and tapered clothes are typically not suited for these machines. Unisex machines exist at half the price of man-sized machines, but press fewer items of clothing per hour.

Ted Potrikus, CEO of the Retail Council of New York State, a statewide retail trade association, looks to different points along the supply chain that may explain price differences for seemingly identical products.

"Retailers see women as their biggest target," said Potrikus. "Research and development, following trends, meeting trends, advertising products on television and in magazines are not cheap." Companies are willing to spend more money advertising to women than they are toward men, contributing to the price discrepancies."

But some don't see marketing costs as a big factor. "Advertising that doesn't talk up the product but tells you you'll be prettier and more successful is emotional advertising," said Cone. "It creates insecurities and jacks up the price."

Watch: Women gather for International Women's Day