Misconceptions of The Pink Tax

Pink Tax

You’ve probably heard about the supposed gender wage gap, which some activists incorrectly attribute to sexism and discrimination. (Some activists, oddly enough, understand the actual reasons for it, yet still see it as a problem.)

What you may not have heard about is the wage gap’s close relative, the pink tax.

The pink tax, put simply, is the extra cost of women’s products compared to similar men’s products (the most prominent examples are health products like shampoo and soap). The important word there is similar, a word that is often left out by those advocating against it. If women were actually paying more than men for the exact same product, we could only explain this in one of two ways: either women are forcefully being prevented from buying the exact same cheaper men’s product, or women aren’t smart enough not to be fooled by the labels “for men” and “for women” on the containers. I doubt anyone in their right mind would accept either of these to be true.

Burger King (of all places) made a video in late July attempting to explain the pink tax. In the video, men are offered the usual “Chicken Fries,” but women are instead offered the same product in a box labeled “Chick Fries” for a higher price. As was explained above, this is incredibly misleading.

If it’s the case that products aimed at men are different than the products aimed at women, the situation makes a lot more sense. Cause and effect are inverted from what the activists believe. Women (on average) and men (on average) have different preferences for certain things. Businesses market products that they believe will make the most profit. If the average woman and the average man preferred the same thing, they would always buy the same product, and marketing towards specific genders would be a waste of money.

The market tells us in the case of items like soap and shampoo, men tend to prefer cheaper products so long as they work, while women are willing to spend more for a better product. For other health products like razors, the “pink tax” can actually be the other way round. A quick amazon search suggests in this case, men’s razors are actually more expensive than women’s razors. This is not an example of discrimination against men. It’s only an example of the market satisfying the preferences of two different customer bases.

Sometimes examples of the pink tax are more literal; some items are most expensive just because they’re pink. Buzzfeed compiled a list of examples of the pink tax, with many of them featuring products that are equal in every way besides the difference in color. And yet this still doesn’t show any sign of sexism or discrimination. It only shows that the color pink is more valuable to customers (either male or female) than the generic color (usually black or blue). Women are not limited to pink products. If some female customers decide to pay more for a pink computer mouse rather than buying the blue one, it means the color was worth the extra cost to them. If the color change was not worth the extra cost, producers would be lowering the price to gain the most profit.

In a few cases that typically involve haggling, there are claims that women may actually pay a bit more than men for the same product. This can be explained by gender differences in agreeableness. The average woman tends to rank higher in agreeableness than the average man. People that rank high in agreeableness tend to “go with the flow” much more often, and are overall more friendly and optimistic. Those that rank low in agreeableness are more likely to “stand their ground” in cases of conflict rather than giving in, and are more likely to start conflict. For that reason, those that rank low tend to be better at negotiating and are more successful at haggling for lower prices. This can explain some claims that women, on average, are quoted higher prices by some car salesmen and mechanics, because they are less likely to dispute a higher price.

Another supposed example of the pink tax is differences in clothing. Women’s clothing tends to be more expensive than men’s clothing. In this case, men’s clothing and women’s clothing are two entirely different markets. Lots of clothing is made specifically to fit either men or women, making them two different products, and thus comparisons between the two are unfair. It should already be pretty clear that there are significant differences between men’s fashion and women’s fashion. (If not, The Onion explains it well through satire).

Overall, we can say that when women and men both have equal access to the same products on the market, any disparity is entirely due to customer preference. Both men and women will buy the product that best satisfies their preferences. In cases like clothing, where markets for men and women are separate, comparison is unfair. The markets are different, and therefore cannot be compared.

Much like the wage gap, the disparity itself actually does exist, but the reasons for it are entirely justified. The pink tax isn’t an issue.

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]