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Monday, January 11, 2016

Pricewatch: Sometimes it’s dearer to be a woman

Sisters are obliged to fork out for a ‘gender tax’ – not only for products they have to buy

In ranges packaged differently based on gender, women have to pay more for being women. Illustration: Getty

 Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman and it can certainly be much more expensive. When the cost of all those products and services that most men are unaccustomed to spending money on are totted up, women can quite easily be worse off by more than €1,000 each year.
Does that sound like a lot? The numbers add up very quickly. We priced a year’s supply of multipurpose cleansers, moisturisers, exfoliators, sunblock (outside of the summer holiday stuff) body lotions, hair products, wax treatments, make-up (lip gloss, blusher, eyeshadow, eyeliner and the rest), tampons and bras.

Now, obviously, not all women use all these products – although some will use them and more. And some men use some of these products and services. Such caveats aside, when we tot up the bill – and for our list we deliberately avoided particularly high-end products – the cost still comes to €1,024.

But does the buck stop there? It certainly doesn’t seem to if recent evidence from the US is to be believed. In the run-up to Christmas, New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs conducted what it said was the “first-ever study of the gender pricing of goods in New York city across multiple industries”.

The report, From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer, found all sorts of price discrepancies; the widest was in hair products. Shampoo and conditioner marketed for women cost 45 per cent more than those aimed at men.

The study also highlighted other dramatic discrepancies, including one between two nearly identical children’s scooters. One was red and marketed at boys, whereas the other was pink and aimed at girls. The boys’ scooter cost $24.99, whereas the girls’ one was $49.99.
The agency compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold at dozens of New York City retailers. Alongside the average price discrepancy of 7 per cent, it also published category breakdowns.
Girls’ clothes were 4 per cent more expensive than boys’, while women’s clothes were 8 per cent pricier than men’s.

Women’s personal care products cost an average of 13 per cent more. In just five of the 35 product categories analysed, products for female consumers were priced lower than those for men. Across the sample, the study found that women’s products cost more 42 per cent of the time, whereas men’s products cost more 18 per cent of the time.

“Over the course of a woman’s life, the financial impact of these gender-based pricing disparities is significant,” the report says. “In 1994, the state of California studied the issue of gender-based pricing of services and estimated that women effectively paid an annual ‘gender tax’ of approximately $1,351 for the same services as men,” it continues.
The New York study does not estimate an annual financial impact of gender pricing for goods but its findings would indicate American women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives to purchase similar products as men.

“Though there may be legitimate drivers behind some portion of the price discrepancies unearthed . . . these higher prices are mostly unavoidable for women. Individual consumers do not have control over the textiles or ingredients used in the products marketed to them and must make purchasing choices based only on what is available in the marketplace,” the report states.

“As such, choices made by manufacturers and retailers result in a greater financial burden for female consumers than for male consumers.”

Personal hygiene
But that is New York. What is it like in this part of the world? Could it be much different?
We had a quick look at personal hygiene products and compared a range that is packaged differently based on gender. It seems that women have to pay more for being women here too.

Boots sells a range of own-brand shaving gels, some of which are clearly aimed at men and others at women. Its Essentials Shaving Gel (200ml), a non-gender-specific product, costs €1.99 while the cheapest of its “feminine” gels cost €2.49.
Other gels aimed at women with sensitive skin cost €4.29, or more than twice the price of men’s gels.

Gillette might be the best a man can get, but the company also has a lot of blades that target women. The one that caught our eye was the Venus Embrace. This “Goddess of Closeness” is, the product description tells us, “the only five-bladed razor for women surrounded by a ribbon of moisture. Shaves you close so that you can get as close as you want to.”
A pack of four such blades will set you back €15.99. Manly Fusions also have five blades, but a pack of four will cost €14.99.

The news is slightly better when it comes to shower gels. In Tesco, Dove Pro Age Body Wash (250ml), costs €3.50. Dove Men+ Care Hydrate Balance Shower Gel, a product that has been “developed specifically for men’s skin” and comes with “micromoisture” to lock in “natural moisture, leaving your skin hydrated and balanced”, costs €3.85.
Tesco sells Just for Men “hair colourant” – or dye – for €7.65, whereas Excellence hair colourant, which is marketed as “just for women”, costs €10.29.

The situation is more gender-balanced when it comes to deodorant. Tesco sells 250ml of Sure Men Quantum anti-perspirant deodorant for €5.35, the same price as Sure Women Cotton anti-perspirant deodorant. Whether it is better to smell of cotton or, erm, Quantum, is up to you.

Hair salons
It is not just in the area of personal hygiene where price discrepancies are to be found. We contacted several hair salons looking for the price of a haircut for a man, with long hair, and a woman, also with long hair. Prices for men are about €30-something, whereas the cost for women is routinely more than €60. The price discrepancy between short-haired men and short-haired women was more pronounced. A woman could quite easily spend more than €400 a year on haircuts, whereas a man can get away with spending less than €80 with no great difficulty.

Some peculiar price gaps also emerge in relation to toys. Inspired by the New York study, we looked at children’s scooters in Argos. A blue and green “Rollers by Zinc R2 Balance Bike to Inline Scooter” has a price tag – on sale – of €45.99, whereas its pink equivalent – also on sale – costs €51.49. The full price of both is €58.99. 
Conor Pope