I’ve always known about the extra “costs” of being a woman. We’re all familiar with them – catcalling/street harassment, rampant sexism, the wage gap (in which women earn on average about 79 cents to a man’s dollar in America today), harmful stereotypes, impossible standards of beauty and all the cultural/social/psychological repercussions…but I never though that there was an actual monetary cost associated with being female. Or specifically, with being a female consumer.
Back in February of this year, I published an article called LEGO Friends & Other Gendered Nonsense that looked at the stereotypical “for boys” vs. “for girls” dichotomy in children’s toys, and explored the very real consequences of limiting girls’ options to pink princesses and domestic tasks. The article covered a lot of bases, but I’ve got to be honest…I never thought to compare prices.
Just in time for the biggest consumer whirlwind of the year, in early December the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) – responsible for maintaining a fair marketplace – published an exhaustive comparative study of nearly 800 products with female and male versions. The punchline? When controlling for quality, products marketed to girls and women cost on average 7% more than their nearly identical counterparts marketed to boys and men.
You can read the full study here – From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer – but here are some highlights:
While the female mark-up was consistent across the board for all product categories (toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care products, and senior/home health care products), it was the most dramatic when it came to personal care products, with a 13% average mark-up in general, and a whopping 48% mark-up for hair care products like shampoo, conditioner and gel. The overwhelming societal importance of feminine beauty, the constant undermining of women’s self-confidence and the “easy solutions” presented by women’s beauty products’ marketing campaigns creates a situation in which women are ready to pay any and everything in order to creep closer to society’s strategically impossible standards. In other words, this mark-up, while depressing, makes sense.
But what about children’s merchandise? We already know that LEGO has divided their products along gender lines; are they also charging more for “girls” toys?
Unfortunately, LEGO is no exception to these across-the-board gender premiums. For children’s toys, the study looked at 3 LEGO Duplo examples in the “preschool toys” category, and the girls’ versions were an average $2.33 more expensive. Playmobil, another one of my personal childhood favorites, was even worse. Target sells the Playmobil pirate ship for $24.99, while the Playmobil fairy queen ship is marked at $37.99. One of the most impressive price differences can be seen in the image below, in which the girls scooter – literally identical except for the color – is 2x the price of the boys model.
I kind of expected the price difference for personal care products…see “impossible beauty standards” mentioned above. I was already disgusted by stereotypical gendered children’s toys, so the added price discrepancy just confirms my ongoing boycott of “girls” toys.
However, I was taken aback by the price differences for men’s and women’s clothing. Following analysis of 292 different products, ranging from dress shirts to jeans, from sweaters to underwear, women pay 8% more than men. For high price range clothing, this jumps to 13%, while interestingly enough, for long price range clothing men actually pay a slim 3% more for equivalent products.
On the pricier end, Club Monaco came out “on top,” with women’s clothing costing nearly 30% more than men’s, followed by Urban Outfitters at 24.6% (as if we needed another reason to dislike Urban Outfitters), and Levi’s with 24.3%.
An article from The Washington Post listed a number of historic studies that have reached similar conclusions regarding the cost of being female. In 1994, a report from the State of California calculated a “gender tax” on women of about $1,351 per year for the same services rendered to men. A similar study from the DCA in 2002 found that women pay 25% more on haircuts requiring the same amount of work as a men’s cut, and are charged 27% more to launder a white cotton shirt.
So this is quite unfortunate. Women already have gendered expenses associated with menstruation, reproductive health, and raising children; we do not need to be paying more for deodorant and jeans as well.
I know that this article comes a bit late in terms of Christmas this year, but it is right on time for new year’s resolutions. I for one resolve to NOT buy women’s products anymore simply because they’re pink/purple/marketed to women, and to start looking at the products in the men’s section. Parents (and anyone else who buys toys for kids): if dangerous gender stereotypes aren’t enough to keep you away from the blue/red vs. pink/purple aisles, perhaps these ridiculous price differences and their subsequent impact on your budget will encourage you to re-evaluate your purchasing choices.
It’s easy to let ourselves be unquestioningly led to the products we are “supposed” to buy. Indeed, millions of dollars are invested every day in getting us to want specific products via advertising campaigns, store design/layout, and messages from pop culture/mainstream media. This is truly a win-win opportunity for anyone who wants to fight back against that kind of systemic brainwashing: not only are you disrupting social and cultural norms, you’re spending less money for the same products/quality!
So in 2016, let’s shake things up. Let’s save money AND reject gender stereotypes. Who’s with me??