MUNICH — At first sight, it looks like a real bargain buy: five disposable razors for 85 cents, with Aloe-Vera sliding strips, "ideal for the bikini line." No hesitation, the pink razors are in the basket.
But wait: Two shelves to the right, there's what looks like the same kind of package, but in blue. Same brand, same characteristics. But not the same price: 1.45 euros for a pack of 10. If you do the math, you'll find that the women's razors are 17% more expensive.
They call it the "Pink Tax," the extra cost for an essentially identical product that isn't unisex, and the model intended for women is more expensive. In certain cases, the consumer advocate center in Hamburg, Germany, found gaps of up to 200%. A study conducted by the city of New York came to similar conclusions: There, women pay, on average, 7% more than men for comparable products.
The Pink Tax accompanies females from birth onward. Even toys and clothes for girls are, according to the study, more expensive than the equivalent for boys.
Here in Germany, this reporter's own individual experiment did indeed find life to be more expensive for women. Going back to "hair removal": Shaving foam for women costs 89 euro cents for 150 milliliters, while men pay 79 cents for 250 milliliters. That's a women-surcharge of 88%.
It isn't always easy to compare the products, which are typically found on different shelves, far from each other. Ingredients and packaging aren't exactly the same either. Another example are fragrances in the Douglas-Online-Shop. There, the perfume "Exotic Summer For Men" by Davidoff costs 46.99 euros per 125 milliliters. Women pay the same price for their version of the fragrance, but the flacon contains only 100 milliliters.
Service sector too
But the gap doesn't only affect products, there's a surcharge on services-for-the-sexes too. I, a woman, asked for the cheaper men's haircut to three different barbershops in central Munich. No dice. Their explanation: Women's haircuts are more complex and take longer. But is that really true?
Gerd Meier, professor for economic psychology in Lüneburg, says the source of the Pink Tax may be that women are generally more willing to pay higher prices, because they attach more importance to quality. Men, on the other hand, tend to be more price-sensitive.
Dirk Schulz, director of the Gender Studies Institute of the University of Cologne has come to a similar conclusion. "Women are supposed to be the ‘fairer sex" – which contributes to the idea that women spend more money on their looks," he says. Men are newer to the beauty industry, and so brands try to win them over with cheaper prices.
The prices for products and services therefore depend only partly on hard facts like the costs of material, production and wages. Instead, manufacturers simply charge the maximum they think the consumer is ready to pay. Schulz says women are more likely to feel obliged to look good, and thus are ready to fork out for it. The market benefits from this female attitude.
In only a few areas does the market favor women. Online dating services like single.de, for instance, only charge men: Women can flirt for free. In some nightclubs men pay more than women.
The female surcharge may not be caused by the market at all, instead it may be the product of classic discrimination, as French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described it: If the man's the norm and the woman "different," then men's products too are considered the "normal version." Women's products are therefore considered to be more special, luxurious versions, and are consequently more expensive. Applying the Beauvoir theory to cases for your laptop: the black case costs 39.99 euros; the identical pink version, 44.95 euros.
There is legislation now aimed at making sure men and women are treated equally on the market. From 2012 on, insurance rates for instance, had to be aligned for men and women. Before, women paid higher rates for private health and pension insurances, while men spent more for their car insurance. The so-called "gender pricing" is officially forbidden in the U.S. states of New York and California, while France is debating such measures. Germany isn't even close.
Of course, the gender pay gap has been well documented, with women earning on average 21% less than men. As merchants too, women have to deal with lower margins, as a recent study by the University of Tel Aviv found that they bring in lower prices than men on eBay, for the same products.
What can a woman do to fight against such inequalities? Choose a male username on eBay? Maybe. As consumers, women should definitely be informed, and ready to complain. As long as there's no awareness of this inequality, nothing will change.
For starters: Put the pink razors back on the shelf, take the blue ones instead — they'll do the job just fine.