What Is the Pink Tax?

Pink Tax Explained

woman standing in pharmacy aisle looking at beauty products

AlexanderFord / Getty Images

The “pink tax” is a term for the extra amount of money women are charged for certain products or services that are specifically marketed toward them. The general products, such as razors or deodorants, can be used by both men and women, but the items branded toward women are more expensive. The pink tax forces women to pay more for similar—and often identical—products and services that men use.

In this guide, you’ll learn what the pink tax is, where it came from, and how it works.

Definition and Example of the Pink Tax

The pink tax refers to the general tendency for products marketed specifically toward women to be more expensive than those marketed toward men. Despite its name, a pink tax isn’t actually a tax, but rather a discriminatory pricing practice based on gender

For example, if you go to the drugstore, you may notice that women’s razors, which are essentially the same as those for men, cost more. You’ll find that generally, the only difference between these razors is that the women’s version is pink while the men’s version is blue. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples like this one that often cause women to pay more than men for everyday items. 

In a 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), researchers surveyed 35 product categories that may upcharge women. Across the sample, DCA found that women’s products paid more for their products 42% of the time, while men’s products cost more just 18% of the time.

The pink tax dates back to the 1990s when a report from California’s Assembly Office of Research found that 64% of stores in several major cities charged more to wash and dry clean a woman’s blouse than a man’s button-up. The subject gained national attention and has since spurred various attempts at instituting regulation to remove the pink tax.  

How the Pink Tax Works

When a company manufactures or sells a product like a razor, deodorant, or shampoo, they may choose to price it a bit higher because it’s for women. In most cases, the difference between these products and comparable products for men is very minor. It may simply be the color or package design. Pink tax makes it more expensive for women to buy what they need to live their everyday lives.

According to investment bank JPMorgan Chase, by many estimates, the pink tax costs women an average of $1,300 annually.

The pink tax is technically legal in most states; however, New York state recently placed a ban on the pink tax. In April 2020, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a proposal to ban the pink tax, and it went into effect on Sept. 30, 2020. The measure requires certain service providers to provide price lists for standard services and notifies them that gender-based price discrimination is prohibited under state law. If businesses violate the law, they are subject to civil penalties.

While the pink tax is still legal and exists in some states, the Pink Tax Repeal Act is an attempt to ban it. Introduced in April 2019 as H.R. 2048 by Rep. Jackie Speier, the Pink Tax Repeal Act would make it illegal for companies to charge higher prices based on gender for products and services. In June 2021, the Act was reintroduced.

Since the Pink Tax Repeal Act does have supporters and states like New York have put an end to the pink tax, there is a chance pink tax will eventually become illegal in every state. 

Common Pink Tax Items

The pink tax can be applied to various products and services, with beauty- and health-related products or services being the most common.

Consumer Reports performed a study on the pink tax and found that women’s products may cost up to 50% more than similar products for men. When they compared various drugstore products for men and women, they uncovered the following:

  • Women paid $2.49 for shaving cream while men paid $1.69 for a similar product.
  • Women paid $7.49 for body wash while men paid $5.49 for a similar product.
  • Women paid $10.99 for a pack of razor blades while men paid $10.49 for a similar product. 
  • Women paid $6.49 for the pain reliever medication, Menstrual Complete, while men paid $5.99 for Excedrin pain reliever.

Pink tax can also be seen in products and services marketed toward girls, not just women. According to the New York City DCA report, on average, female children’s clothing costs an average of 4% more than male children’s clothing, and toys and accessories cost an average of 7% more.

Pink Tax vs. Tampon Tax

The tampon tax is another upcharge that affects women, and it is occasionally confused with the pink tax. While the pink tax refers to a variety of women’s products that are more expensive than comparables for men—and is not actually a tax—the tampon tax is the sales tax applied to pads, tampons, liners, and other feminine hygiene items. 

As of 2021, 27 states apply sales tax to these menstrual items, which are deemed necessary for women. The sales tax amount varies from state to state and is based on the tax code in each individual state.

Key Takeaways

  • The pink tax refers to the general tendency for products marketed specifically toward women to be more expensive than those marketed toward men.
  • The pink tax is often seen in a number of everyday products and services including razors, shampoo, dry cleaning, and haircuts.
  • The pink tax is currently illegal in New York state.
  • While the pink tax applies to all types of products and isn’t actually a “tax,” the tampon tax is a sales tax that many states charge when women buy feminine hygiene products.