What Is the Pink Tax?

buying tampons

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There are costs to being a woman. Woman earn just 84% of what men do whether they work full time or part time. Not only that, women also get promoted less often, which widens the pay gap even further. If that weren’t enough, women also pay more for products that are marketed to women—this is called the Pink Tax. 

Walk down the personal care aisle of your favorite store and peruse the different products available for sale. Notice how the packaging of many products for women include the color pink. Also notice how they are priced higher than similar products marketed to men.

The Pink Tax makes women, who already get paid less than men, pay more for similar products. Here’s what you need to know about it and how to avoid it.

Identifying the Pink Tax

Pink tax describes the price difference between any product marketed to women and comparable products for men.

This includes products like:

  • Body washes
  • Razors
  • Lotions
  • Hair loss products
  • Other personal care products that companies dress up in pink or pastel-colored packaging

The Pink Tax includes the high prices charged for menstrual products and resulting tax, known as the Tampon Tax, which is sales tax charged on feminine hygiene products while other products deemed basic necessities are granted sales tax exemption.

It also includes items such as pens. In 2012, the Bic company marketed a two-pack of pink and purple "Bic For Her" pens for $5.60 to women and while selling a four-pack of the same pens in black and blue colors for $3.37. All pens had the same black-colored ink and the only difference was the color.

The Joint Economic Committee of the United States Senate (JEC) wrote an entire report on the implications of the Pink Tax in 2016. They found that in addition to markups on razors and other personal care products, manufacturers also markup toys, clothing, and senior care items. Overall, 42% of women's products cost more, while only 18% of men’s products are more expensive. Pricing differences have also been observed in service-based industries such as auto repair. 

Why Does the Pink Tax Exist?

There are several possible explanations for these price differences. The JEC boils them down to four categories:

  1. Tariffs: Tariffs are apparently higher for women’s clothing than for men, coming in at 15.1% and 12.9%, respectively. This cost is then passed on to consumers via a higher price point.
  2. Price fixing: Price fixing describes a lack of competitiveness in the market that allows large companies to dictate the price of goods and services. Companies that would potentially drive down the cost of products and services are prevented from entering the market in the first place, so the companies that already exist in that space can set the price without having to compete for sales. 
  3. Product differentiation: Product differentiation is similar to tariffs, in that the men’s product is standard and produced at a higher volume than the pink alternative for women. As a result, the pink razors cost more to make and that cost is once again passed on to consumers. 
  4. Price discrimination: Price discrimination is charging different prices for consumers to encourage them to buy your products. This is where student, senior, and child discounts come from. Basically, you charge less for a product or service to entice customers who may not choose your business otherwise. Other consumers who would buy your products either way end up paying more. 

Types of Pink Tax

Pink tax has infiltrated the market in just about every category. In addition to the JEC report, there’s also an in depth study of the Pink Tax produced by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer.

This report details price differences for toys, clothing, personal care products, health products, and more.

Sometimes the price difference between men’s and women's items is obvious with a clearly marked-up price. However, it’s harder to spot in other cases when the price of the products is the same, but the quantity varies. In these instances, men get more of the product for the same exact price. 

Tips & Tricks for Avoiding Pink Tax

No matter the circumstances, the Pink Tax is just another way that women are financially disadvantaged compared to men. Women earn less and get promoted less, and are expected to pay more for the same products just because they’re in a different color.

However, there are ways to avoid paying these markups—and you should, given the 13% markup on personal care products alone.

There are companies that produce unisex products, absorb the cost difference for women's products, or have a commitment to creating products for women that are fairly priced:

  • Billie was started specifically to combat the Pink Tax and produce fairly-priced personal care items for women. They even have a referral program called the Pink Tax rebate
  • Boxed is an online retailer that sells bulk items wholesale. They committed to remove Pink Tax from its pricing model, and instead charge the same price for comparable men’s and women’s products. 
  • Brandless produces and sells its own products to reduce markups across the board. In addition to getting rid of the Pink Tax. Their business model also eliminates markups from brand names—which was their primary goal. 

You can also choose to compare prices of some "women's products" and "men's products" in-store. You can choose to purchase items marketed to men instead of those marketed to women to save money and not end up paying the Pink Tax.

Don’t resign yourself to paying over $1,300 more than men for products each year. Buying from companies that prioritize price equity is an easy and convenient way to skirt the Pink Tax and get ahead financially.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pew Research Center. Gender pay gap in U.S. held steady in 2020.

  2. CNN. The promotion gap is real. Here’s how to fix it.

  3. Manatis-Lornell AJ, Marks DH, Hagigeorges D, Okhovat JP, Senna MM. Gender-related cost discrepancies in a cohort of 110 facial moisturizersJ Cosmet Dermatol. 2019;18(6):1765-1766. doi:10.1111/jocd.12954

  4. Weiss-Wolf J. U.S. Policymaking to address menstruation: Advancing an equity agendaThe Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies. 2020;539-549. doi:10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_41

  5. Joint Economic Committee. The pink tax: How gender-based pricing hurts women's buying power.

  6. Joint Economic Committee. The Pink Tax How Gender-Based Pricing Hurts Women’s Buying Power.

  7. New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. A Study of Gender Pricing in New York City Consumer Affairs.

By Brianna Graham, MPH
Brianna Graham, MPH, is the founder and CEO of Mixed Media, LLC, a Black woman-owned consulting business. Currently, Brianna holds a certification in public health, and a teaching certificate. She is an expert in copywriting and content writing for healthcare and education organizations.