Gender is a social construct – and an expensive one at that.

Written by: Hannah Saul

Rather than a necessity, diapers for your baby are a luxury item. Stating this as a fact is controversial, rebuttable, and aggressive – but when you think about it, they are not needed in the same way that air, and shelter are needed for survival. You see, there is no perfect – or even close – substitute to the necessities of life. You can’t substitute food with rocks, nor could you substitute air with carbon monoxide, and expect to live. But, you could replace diapers with learning how to use the toilet. Governments would benefit by placing a tax on all baby diapers, and using that money for important public initiatives, such as building more public restrooms and infrastructures for people and babies to use so they don’t defecate themselves. The billion dollar diaper industry would do just fine in raising their prices, and this would further strengthen our economies. If you can’t afford it, you should probably find a substitute.

Of course, the previous set of statements are absolutely extreme and ridiculous, and it would be difficult to find anybody with a brain who would whole-heartedly argue any of these in a serious conversation.

It would be outrageous to hear any of these arguments used as justification for making people pay more for diapers. In reality, these messages are delivered to us all the time – they’re just packaged differently, in pink wrapping.

Pink tax is the phenomenon that women often pay more than men for similar items – from diapers, to personal care products, to sports equipment – to just about anything that companies’ market as “women’s” versions of a product. While it isn’t a real tax levied by the government, there’s no doubt that it leaves an impact on women’s wallets. In 2015, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a study on 800 products spanning 35 categories of items that people purchase throughout their lifetime (1). They found that over time, products marketed towards women cost 42% more than those marketed towards men, and that men’s products only cost more 8% of the time (2). The report also notes how those small differences over a span of a lifetime can easily rake up to thousands of dollars.

Just like in the nonsense diaper argument above, while women are open to substitutes (that is, buying the “men’s” version of the product at a cheaper price), the question is why comparable products marketed towards women are more expensive in the first place.

In 2005, the Gender-Based Price Discrimination Prohibition Act was passed in Ontario, creating a law against charging different prices for the same goods or services on the basis of gender (3). Many jurisdictions have similar laws in place, however, there are almost no laws regarding different prices for similar goods and services.

From infancy to old age, it has always been cheaper to be a man

Of the five industries studied by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, children’s clothing was priced the most similarly (4). On average, girl’s clothing cost 4% more than boys.

Taking a trip to The Children’s Place, we can see how this price discrepancy becomes notable for products at an early age. In line with the study, this girls uniform shirt cost 17.69% higher (both one sale and original price) than the boys uniform shirt, despite them being the exact same color and product line.

Figure one: Price Comparison of Children’s Shirts

Source: The Children’s Place

Adult clothing is no expectation to gender-based pricing. The NYC report shared the following breakdown.

Table 1: Price Breakdown, Adult Clothing

Source: New York City Department of Consumer Affairs

The report found that shampoo was the worst offender of all, despite containing the same ingredients, with a 48% discrepancy in the prices paid for men’s vs women’s shampoo. Personal care products had an overall 13% average discrepancy.

Table 2: Price Breakdown, Personal Care Products

Source: New York City Department of Consumer Affairs

Figure 2: Price Breakdown of Adult Jeans

Source: Levi’s

Into old age, the NYC study found that price discrepancies did not get better. The study found that on average, women paid 8% more for senior care items.

Table 3: Price Breakdown, Senior Care Products

Source: New York City Department of Consumer Affairs

A similar concept to pink tax- tampon tax – refers to taxation on menstrual hygiene products. While this has since been eliminated in Canada, taxes on menstrual hygiene products were in place until 2015. Since 2015, the Canadian government has recognized these products as essential, ending the GST tax on menstrual hygiene products that had been in place for years (5). Other essential items that are GST exempt include basic groceries and prescription drugs (6).

In addition to inflated prices through the invisible pink tax, people who require menstrual hygiene products and lean towards gender-marketed products for women will have an additional dent in their wallet.

Invisible costs and their Invisible Justifications

Surely, the differences in price points between gender-marketed items can sometimes be justified. A good example is examining how clothing for girls may be decorated – with more materials than their boy clothing counterparts (glitter, sequins, ribbons, etc.) in general. Other items can be harder to explain.

Razor companies have attempted to justify the price gap in the past. A spokesperson for Gillette, who produces women’s razors under their Venus product line, has noted that “Gillette and Venus products are different, designed to address different shaving needs while providing the best possible user experience” (7). Other companies have tried to argue that men buy razors more frequently, causing the price discrepancy to even out over a lifetime (8).

This second argument appears to make sense out of context. However, when you consider this same argument in application to women’s vs men’s hair care items, it falls through. Under this justification, it would also make sense that women’s hair care items are also cheaper – which, as noted by the NYC study, is clearly not the case.

So why do women pay more? Danielle Kurtzleben explains it best in in her Vox article from 2014:
“Of course, there’s an obvious answer here: society expects women to look a certain way. Put into economics terms, there’s a higher return on investment for beauty for women. Beauty products are becoming more popular among men, it’s true, but expensive skin cream is still optional. For women, all those trappings are more necessary.”

While women can purchase the men’s version of a product as a close, if not perfect substitute – the same way that substitutes exist for products like baby diapers – they shouldn’t have to.

Works Cited

1.“From Cradle to Cane: The C St of Being a Female C Nsumer.” NYC Consumer Affairs . New York City Department of Consumer Affairs: A Study of Gender Pricing in New York City, 2015.


3. “Gender-Based Price Discrimination Prohibition Act, 2005.” Legislative Assembly of Ontario, July 1, 2015. 20Bill%20prohibits%20price%20discrimination,the%20Superior%20Court%20of%20Justice.

4.“From Cradle to Cane: The C St of Being a Female C Nsumer.” NYC Consumer Affairs . New York City Department of Consumer Affairs: A Study of Gender Pricing in New York City, 2015.

5. Mike Moffatt June 10, 2015. “The ‘Tampon Tax’ Is Gone, but the ‘Tampon Tariff’ Lives On.” The ‘tampon tax’ is gone, but the ‘tampon tariff’ lives on . Macleaens, June 10, 2015.

6. Ward, Susan. “What Goods and Services Are GST/HST Exempt or Zero-Rated in Canada?” The Balance Small Business, February 2021.

7. Charlie Moore. “Gillette Charges Women More than Men for the Same Razors.” Gillette charges more for women’s razors than for men’s – while bashing sexism in its controversial #MeToo-inspired advert. Associated Newspapers, January 17, 2019.

8. Nelson, Libby. “The Hidden Tax Women Pay on Just about Everything.” Vox. Vox, December 23, 2015.

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