Go to your local pharmacy and look at the shaving aisle. You’ll almost certainly find that if you pick up, say, a silver and black men’s razor, it’ll cost less than a razor decked out in pink and marketed to women. Yet the two products serve the exact same purpose.
It’s a practice known as gender pricing: charging women more for essentially the same products as men. And Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) wants to expose it.
On Friday, he and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will send a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a copy of which was shared with ThinkProgress, requesting that it review a sample of representative products nationally and determine whether women are being charged more for no good reason. The GAO could then make recommendations to Congress about how it might fight back against the practice.
“Over time, these persistent markups can cost women thousands of dollars, a phenomenon that has been referred to as a ‘gender tax’ on female consumers,” the letter says. “The financial burden that price discrimination places on women is amplified further by the persistent wage gap.”
Casey says he thinks the GAO report would be a critical first step in cracking down on gender pricing. “Just identifying the problem and being able to document it is critical,” he told ThinkProgress. “Having the spotlight shine on it and letting folks in the marketplace know that this won’t be tolerated or this will be the subject of scrutiny will, I think, have the strong potential to change behavior.”
“Over time, these persistent markups can cost women thousands of dollars”
There have been some studies documenting the problem in certain areas. As far back as 1994, the California government found that women were paying an extra $1,351 each a year because their products are more expensive than men’s, from haircuts that averaged $5 more each to an extra $1.71 to have a women’s shirt dry cleaned.
More recently, a study in Florida in 2012 found that women’s deodorants cost 30 cents more than men’s despite the fact that the only difference was the scent. Last year, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs reviewed nearly 800 products in the city — from toys to clothing to health care products — and found that, overall, women’s products cost 7 percent more than men’s. Personal care products, like shampoo and shaving cream, cost a whopping 13 percent more.
Consumer Reports undertook its own review in 2010 and found a huge variety of products that cost more when marketed to women, including shaving needs, deodorant, and even pain relievers.
These studies outline “a remarkable and disturbing set of findings,” Casey said. “It’s a real weight on [women’s] shoulders that they shouldn’t have to bear. There’s no justification for it, no rationale. It’s just out and out discrimination.”
Meanwhile, women have to shell out more money for the same products while also, on average, earning just 79 percent of what men make.
Many places even have rules in place that should ban this practice. California, New York City, and Miami-Dade County in Florida have all prohibited gender pricing. But it’s so widespread, it’s hard to crack down on it all.
Casey admitted there may be no direct legislative remedy, although he expects that a focus from the GAO could spur state attorneys general and consumer affairs departments to take bolder action. Investigating the practice may be enough. “We can discourage it or even shame people into take a different approach,” he said.
It’s also no coincidence that Casey will send his letter on Women’s Equality Day. “It’s difficult to make the case that women are equal when you have these kinds of practices that are persisting,” he said.
This post has been updated to reflect that Rep. Maloney is a co-signatory on the letter to the GAO.