Yet another display of the economic discrimination created between men and women due to the patriarchal thoughts of society is “pink tax”. Despite what the term denotes, the ‘pink tax’ is not a legitimate tax imposed by a government. Rather it is the gender-based price discrimination and invisible cost that we, as women, have to pay for products designed and marketed specifically to us, as against the same products designed and marketed to men, which are often available for less and can only be differentiated through the colour of the product and its packaging.
In 2015, a study carried out by NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, on gender-based pricing found that on average women’s products cost 7% more than men’s - and it wasn’t just hygiene, fashion and beauty products. These hyped-up prices were applied to lots of things, from a study of 800 products, these are the items that stood out most:
7% more for toys and accessories
4% more for children’s clothing
8% more for adult clothing
13% more for personal care products
8% more for senior/home health care products
The official website of AxThePinkTax estimates that by the age of 35, a woman pays an alarming total of around $47,000 under the garb of this “gender tax”. This comes in addition to the ever-widening pay gap that women are subjected to; not only are they being paid less but the services and products offered to them are costlier too. According to a Mint article, as of 2018, the pay gap is as wide as 19% in India and it continues to exist even in developed countries such as the USA, UK and other EU nations.
Product and Retail differentiation: Manufacturers often argue that higher quality raw materials go into women’s products, there is higher R&D cost incurred by companies to create an aesthetic product with attractive packaging and unique colour schemes. This increases the cost of production due to lack of economies of scale in producing those specific products. For example, a manufacturer may produce far more generic blue and black backpacks than pink nags, which could relatively increase the cost of production of each pink helmet. Further, these products need to be distributed differently (cosmetic store vs. pharmacy) or placed differently in the store, higher inventory cost due to low sales figures and advertising are cited as reasons at the distribution level to justify the price differential.
Women are less price-elastic: There’s a common belief in the market that men, unlike women, act like rational consumers guided by factors like price and utility, whereas women, on the other hand, are considered to be vain and more conscious about their appearance, and hence they are willing to pay more and, correspondingly, charged more. The insecurities that women carry as a result societal expectation reinforces this gendered pricing and allows companies to exploit large sums of money from them. Many of these products are not even exclusive for women but almost identical with slight differentiation because it is believed that a woman's perspective is such that two products that are identical or almost identical except for colour (mostly blue/black for men and predominantly pink for women) would have different prices.
Regardless of all the justifications, the key issue of this gendered pricing is that it costs a woman even more than before to meet the expectations set for her gender as compared to those of a man.
Pink Tax in India:
In India, we do not have any credible data to show the existence of pink tax. Owing to the fact that many feminine products including Sanitary napkins are sold tax-free. This gives rise to the argument that pink tax is nonexistent in India. However, if researched properly, one will find evidence that women pay more for a product than men. For instance, if you look for a basic round-neck cotton T-shirt (of a leading Indian brand Roadster) online, a piece costs Rs.329 for men; whereas the women's version is priced at Rs.399. These are not garments which are fancier or more detailed for women. Leading brands of deodorants cost an average of Rs 250 for a 100 ml can for men; women's deodorants, on the other hand, cost Rs.185 for a 50 ml bottle. This is a whopping 48 per cent more. Not Only In products but services too on an average haircut for men range between Rs 350 to Rs 600 while for women the same is Rs 600 to Rs 1,500. Therefore, in the Indian context, it would be more apt to say that we do not have any pink tax levied on women products per se but we do have evident gender price discrimination in products and services.
How Do I Offset the “Pink Tax”?
Creating more awareness among consumers is essential in this battle against the pink tax. Being aware of the problematic narratives that fuel and justify the pink tax is the first step towards questioning it.
Be Thoughtful while Purchasing products: To ensure you are getting quality, but fair pricing, critically evaluate what products aren’t affected by packaging or “female flair.” Take the time to really think about whether you’re buying a product because you like the colour of the packaging or if the quality is truly what you like.
Choose a generic product in the same category if you can, when shopping for items which are gender-neutral like razors, don’t hesitate to price compare across different sections and to weigh additional options.
Purchase from companies that support the cause and boycott discriminatory products: It is important for consumers to appreciate the efforts of companies that are actively trying to break this norm. Companies are bound to take recognition of this awareness and change in consumer preferences which would affect their marketing strategy and pricing policy. Burger King, for instance, is already publicly campaigning against the pink tax through their ‘Chick fries’ strategy. Billie, a New York-based subscription razor company, in its fight against the gender tax offers products to its customers at just prices and with a referral discount that it calls ‘The Pink Tax Rebate’. Many companies have even introduced gender-neutral pricing. This is the way forward for companies- If a startup with business models that prioritize women's interests can be profitable and do so without charging them unfair exorbitant prices to actively join the fight against patriarchy then it's time for corporations to revolutionize theirs thinking and to become pioneers of change instead of remaining exploiters.
In order to bring about change in this societal habit of exploiting women financially, it is paramount that we break the notions of women being gullible, vain and submissive to all of the illogical norms. Some changes have been made but we still have a long way to go before prices are made fairer on a global scale. I hope that one day I wouldn’t have to skim through men sections all year round to purchase the same products but at a much cheaper cost.