A dollar should have the same worth no matter whose hands it is in. Unfortunately, thanks to gender-targeted pricing, that's not always the case.
In December 2015, the New York Department of Consumer Affairs released a report studying the differences in gender pricing for consumer goods. The report compared items that were functionally similar but had one product version targeting women and a different product version targeting men.
The New York report compared nearly 800 products in five different industries: toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care products and home health care products for seniors.
Across these five industries, the study found that women's products cost an average of seven percent more than comparable male products.
Specifically, the report notes, "In all but five of the 35 product categories analyzed, products for female consumers were priced higher than those for male consumers. Across the sample, DCA found that women’s products cost more 42 percent of the time, while men’s products cost more 18 percent of the time."
In response to the report, BuzzFeed published an article showing side-by-side comparisons of some of the items studied. Included were photos from Target's website showing "Radio Flyer My 1st Scooter - Sport" and "Radio Flyer Girls My 1st Scooter Sparkle - Pink." The red scooter cost $24.99. The pink scooter was $49.99.
The Washington Post reported that Target reduced the price of the pink scooter after the New York report had been published. Still, the overarching impact of the gender tax is clear.
The New York study examined products women and girls would buy throughout their lifetimes, and found that women would consistently have to pay more than their male counterparts.
An important part of many women's lives is the time they spend in college — a period which can also be marked by particular economic vulnerability, as the American Association of University Women reports that women tend to have a harder time paying off student loan debt after college.
Because college is such an important part of many women's lives, it's important to note any embedded economic discrimination women students face. In order to create a fuller picture of the lifecycle of pricing discrimination, I looked into gender pricing disparities in three stores on and around the ASU Tempe campus, including the Walmart on Apache, the P.O.D. in the M.U. and the campus bookstore.
At each of these locations, I searched for gender-targeted products of similar function, quality and size/quantity, and then compared the prices between the two products.
Although there were many products that were more expensive for women (or those who choose to buy products traditionally marketed towards women), a number of products were similarly priced. Some products were more expensive for men.
Here's a sampling of what I found:
Walmart on Apache
VitaFusion Women's, 70 count, $6.97 vs. VitaFusion MultiVites, 70 count, $4.88
Note: The women's vitamins came in a larger container so upon first glance the price difference seems justified. However, both containers had the same number of vitamins and the vitamins themselves were the same size. The women's container was simply less full.
Equate shave gel women's, 7 oz., $1.97 vs. Equate shave gel men's, 7 oz., $1.97
Equate twin blade women's disposable razors, 10 ct., $1.88 vs. Equate twin blade men's disposable razors, 12 ct., $1.88
Note: The price between these two products was technically the same, but men paid for twelve razors whereas women paid for ten.
Dove women's deodorant, 2.6oz., $3.88 vs. Dove men's deodorant, 2.7oz., $3.88
Suave women's shampoo, 12.6 oz., $1.98 vs. Suave men's shampoo, 12.6 oz., $1.98
Suave women's body wash, 12 oz., $1.50 vs. Suave men's body wash, 12 oz., $1.50
Bell pink bike helmet, $21.97 vs. Schwinn red bike helmet, $17.74
Note: I understand each gender-targeted helmet was a different brand so the prices may not be directly comparable. Still, it's striking to note that the only helmet marketed toward women and girls cost more than $4 more.
P.O.D. in the M.U.
The P.O.D. was definitely sparse in the gender specific product department. The personal hygiene aisle was pretty depleted, and the personal items behind the counter didn't seem to be explicitly gender-targeted. Still, here's what was there:
Nivea women's body wash, 16.9 oz., $10.19 vs. Nivea men's body wash, 16.9 oz., $8.69
Pantene 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, 12.6oz., $8.49 vs. Old Spice 2-in-1 hair + body wash., 18oz., $8.19
Note: It's true that 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner and 2-in-1 hair+body wash are technically different products. They were the most similar items in stock at the P.O.D. at the time. Still, the products are relatively comparable, and the price per ounce comparison — $.67 /oz. v $.46 /oz. — is significant.
New Era 9Twenty women's baseball cap, $24 vs. New Era 9Forty men's baseball cap, $22
Note: Again, I understand that these styles are not exactly the same, but 9Twenty was the only style offered for women and it was not available for men. These two styles were the most similar for sale.
Cutter & Buck women's button-down dress shirt, $66 vs. Cutter & Buck men's button-down dress shirt, $72
Columbia women's fleece vest, $55 vs. Columbia men's fleece vest, $50
Champion women's gold t-shirt, $20 vs. Champion men's gold t-shirt, $14.95
League Collegiate Wear women's long sleeve tee, $46 vs. League Collegiate Wear men's long sleeve tee, $34
Adidas women's hoodie, fleece lining, $65 vs. Adidas men's hoodie, fleece lining, $70
Northface women's jester backpack, $65 vs. Northface unisex jester backpack, $65
By no means is this analysis meant to be comprehensive. It is a brief look into some of the gender pricing disparities present on campus. Although this look is not enough to make concrete conclusions, it is clear that while some products boast comparable pricing, disparities do exist.
These pricing disparities may seem small at first glance — twenty cents here, a dollar there. But if a gender-based price difference follows a woman for her whole life, its impact is multiplied exponentially.
To put this into context, women's Nivea body wash at the P.O.D. cost $1.50 more than the men's body wash. If a female student lives on campus for four years, eight months a year, and buys one bottle of body wash from the P.O.D. every month, she'll spend $48 more than a male peer by the time she graduates. And that's just for body wash.
With that being said, pricing disparities are not exclusive to women. Although women were charged more in many of the cases where prices were different and studies demonstrate that the price bias against women is more systematic, there were certainly cases on campus where men were charged more.
Demanding that products are priced equally doesn't have to be a gendered issue. Everyone has a stake in fair pricing. Producers, manufacturers and vendors have an obligation to ensure that their prices don't discriminate based on gender. As a campus community, we should demand that gender should not affect purchasing power, and that consumers are treated equally.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @MiaAArmstrong on Twitter.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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