Why Do Women Pay More Money For The Same Stuff?

Image courtesy of (James LeVeque)

It starts with toys and baby clothes, and continues for the rest of our lives: items that seem identical have different prices according to which gender they’re marketed to. We take this for granted, mostly because these items are on separate shelves in the store, making it harder to compare prices directly. How far does the problem reach, and why does it happen in the first place?


Which toys and books are marketed to boys and girls and why is a separate issue, but what about when two items are pretty much identical, yet one costs more because of the color? What seems like the same set of blocks in pastel colors has slightly fewer pieces than the boys’ version for some unexplained reason. The “girls'” version could be less expensive because of simple dynamic pricing, but why do toys have “default” and “girl” versions?


Some items seem like they should be price-neutral by gender, but the law doesn’t see them that way. No, really: even for items that are pretty much the same like sneakers or jeans men’s and women’s items are taxed at different rates. Why? It’s lost in the history of tariff negotiations, but means that it can cost slightly more to import some items.

Last year, Old Navy couldn’t get anyone to believe their explanation for why the larger sizes of clothing that they sell for women cost more than identical items of the same size. “They require more fabric” would have been an okay explanation, but the chain didn’t hike prices on men’s jeans in larger sizes by as much as $15. Ultimately, Old Navy changed their return policy to be more fair to people who are short, tall, or large and can only order their clothes on the company’s website, accepting more in-store returns for items ordered online. They also promised to consult with actual women who wear plus sizes when designing future clothing lines.


Surely there can’t be price differences for the same grooming products starting in infancy.

Target probably didn’t mean to price the same item differently for boys and girls: they have enough trouble getting the right prices on all of their items in the first place. Still, this is a trend that continues as humans get older.

Five years ago, our egalitarian colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports picked a few items from the shelf where seemingly identical products had higher prices for the ladies’ version. Then they contacted the manufacturers to find out why those prices were higher.

The maker of Barbasol shaving cream explained that women’s shaving cream costs 30 to 40% more to manufacture, mostly because of differences in the can. It must be taller and thinner (for women’s smaller hands, presumably) and needs to have a non-rusting bottom since women are more likely to shave in the shower. Oh, and it’s more fragranced. The maker of Nivea body washed claimed that their product for women cost $2 more because women prefer more lather, and this “skin-sensation technology” costs more.


Sometimes the question isn’t about price: it’s about whether some items need a ladyversion at all. Back in 2009, before realizing that nobody ever really liked netbooks at all, Dell marketed them to women with an unfathomably condescending website called “Della” that recommended netbooks as more convenient than full-size computers for looking up recipes and logging calories and carbs in diet apps, and focused more on color for computers and their accessories than on features.

“Women drive spending globally, but companies don’t always do a good job of messaging to them,” PR and marketing strategist pointed out. Market research may indicate that women prefer extra-bubbly body wash and tiny pink computers, but sometimes marketing a product to women backfires. Bic makes both razors and pens, and women buy lots of pastel razors, so why not make more slender pens in pastel colors? The backlash against Bic’s pen for women was hilarious and forceful, but the similar marketing of razors continues because we’re used to it, and because they’re on different shelves so the side-by-side comparison isn’t as striking.

If you’re marketing a product, how do you get around this? Offer a variety of colors and sizes if possible, rather than producing items “for men” and “for women”––or, worse, a default product and then a female version. “Rather than labeling items as ‘for her,’ smart marketers will provide items with the proper physical fit, colors, and other attributes which are attractive to women, then let potential users and gift purchasers, both male and female, know about the availability, consumer psychologist Bruce D. Sanders told Consumerist in an e-mail. If you have to charge different prices for the different colors and fits, be honest with your customers about why.

The Secret Tax Screwing Women Out of Thousands of Dollars Over a Lifetime [Mic]
Woman Tax [Tumblr]