The hidden cost of being a woman - the fairer sex pay more for everything from razors, to pens to contraception
Women pay more for everything from razors to pens to contraception. Gabrielle Monaghan reports on the so-called 'pink tax' that so often goes under the radar
Published 08/09/2015 | 02:30
Even American presidential candidates get bad hair days. Consider the bombastic billionaire Donald Trump, who goes on the campaign trail oblivious to the yellow comb-over on top of his head. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is well aware that women in the public eye and in the workplace need to be a little more presentable.
That's probably why Clinton shelled out at least $600 (€541) on a hairdo at the swanky John Barrett Salon in Bergdorf Goodman. The upmarket department store in Manhattan was partly locked down earlier this summer so that the public wouldn't get a glimpse of her tresses being tamed.
Around the same time, when asked by a female supporter about "the hair and make up tax" - the time and money it takes for women to get ready - Clinton could only agree that primping for work was a "daily challenge".
Because women are expected by society and employers to look well groomed, they are an easy target for the 'pink tax', another term used to describe how products and services used by both sexes are more expensive when they are marketed at women rather than men.
The premium charged to women for basic products such as razors and antiperspirant is typically justified by adding feminine touches, such as scent or 'girly' pink packaging. And the differences are not always obvious to female consumers because the products aimed at women are sold in different aisles or even separate floors than those for men.
Even pens carry a higher price tag when marketed towards women. Take, for instance, Bic, the gaffe-prone maker of biros. It attracted much ridicule last week for an advertising campaign posted on its Facebook page to celebrate national women's day in South Africa; the ad, which showed a smiling woman in a suit with arms folded, read: "Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss."
It's not the first time Bic has been accused of using 1970s-style sexism to sell products. In 2012, it marketed pens in the 'lady' colours of pink and purple and called them Bic For Her, saying the biros were "designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand". Just when it was thought Bic couldn't patronise women anymore, it then sold Bic For Her pens on Amazon.com at a 70pc mark-up to its regular non-gendered pens.
Damien O'Reilly, a lecturer in retail management at the Dublin Institute of Technology, says retailers and manufacturers can charge women more than men for the same products because they know most women are more concerned than men about how they look, and are prepared to pay extra for goods and services that make them feel good about themselves.
"It's up to you to decide whether you are willing to buy a product because it is pink, even though it has the same constituent elements as the blue product," he says. "If women stopped buying at that price, retailers would lower the price."
But there are some expenses that women incur that men will never be burdened with, such as the costs of buying tampons, the pill, or the gynaecologist. That's before paying for make up, cosmetics and the other accoutrements of basic grooming.
Men might argue that they have to pay a 'shaving tax', but the worst that could happen if they ditch the razor is that they'll grow a beard. But if a woman showed up to the office with legs sprouting enough hair to pass for the Yeti, and never used sanitary towels or tampons during her period, never wore a bra and let her grey roots grow down to her ears, she'd be pulled into the HR office for a quiet but firm word in her ear.
Gender-based pricing attracts little attention in Ireland, even though it is a double-blow on women's pockets because they earn less than men. According to the European Commission, women here command 14.4pc less than men in average hourly earnings for work of equal value.
But this gap in equality at the cash register has been tackled in a string of other countries. In 1996, California became the first American state to ban gender-price discrimination, estimating at the time that women spent $1,351 more than men on the same products. In France, the finance minister launched an investigation into the same subject after feminist activists began compiling examples on its Woman Tax blog of the price discrepancies between products packaged for women and men.
O'Reilly believes Ireland needs a happy medium between legislating to ban all gender-based pricing and allowing the practice to continue unchallenged.
"One way around this is to legislate to compel manufacturers to display a QR code on products so that consumers could quickly compare the contents of one product to another," he says. "This would make it more equitable."
In the meantime, he says, it's up to women to do their homework when shopping for goods and services that command a pink tax. The following are some of the biggest costs women face solely because of their gender:
Gendered marketing is especially pronounced in the toiletry shelves, where bathroom staples like shampoo, soap, and razors marketed to women routinely cost more than near-identical products for men.
For instance, Boots charges €11.99 for a pink-wrapped eight-pack of Wilkinson Sword disposable razors. But a 10-pack of disposable razors aimed at men and packaged in a masculine green costs just €5.99. That means a single razor for a woman costs three times as much as one sold in the men's aisle.
Razor manufacturers have claimed that the price difference is justified, because men and women's razors have different blades, heads and pivots to perform separate jobs.
Shaving gel is another culprit. At Boots, a 200ml canister of Gillette shave gel costs €2.79, but women will pay €3.74 for Gillette Satin Care Pure & Delicate, which holds the same amount.
Most salons price haircuts according to their customers' gender, not on the length of their hair or their style. Got shorter hair than your husband? Too bad - you'll still be charged more for the pleasure of being a woman.
At Peter Mark on Dublin's Grafton Street, the price of a women's cut and blow-dry starts at €60.50, whereas a men's cut and blow-dry is half the price, at €30. Toni & Guy's salon on Clarendon Street charges women who opt for a senior stylist €54, compared to €30 for men. Both chains said there was no option for women with short hair to avail of men's prices.
Jenny McDermott, director of marketing at Peter Mark, explained that men are charged less because it generally takes less time and skill to cut and blow-dry their hair than it does for the chain's female clients.
"Take the analogy of the 'short back and sides' - I can't think of many women with short hair who would wear that," she says. "This style doesn't require the same finishing and texturing that a short women's cut would need. A little French pixie cut for a woman is very intricate to cut. And a lot of men have a very basic blow-dry that you wouldn't do in sections."
Nevertheless, these reasons wouldn't fly in Denmark, where the Board of Equal Treatment effectively banned gender-based pricing in hair salons.
Women used to get a good deal on car insurance because survey after survey found that they were safer drivers. But no longer: in 2011, The European Court of Justice ruled that setting insurance premiums on the basis of differences between men and women is discriminatory and Ireland had to outlaw gender-based pricing in car and medical insurance and pension schemes. In practice, this has meant an increase in some car insurance premiums for women.
Women also lose out when it comes to private pensions. Mercer presented research earlier this year showing that Irish men can expect a pension pot that is 60pc better funded than their female counterparts. That's because women tend to earn and save less than men, are more likely to work part-time, have more gaps in service due to taking maternity leave. Because women have a longer life expectancy, they will need to survive on a smaller pot of money for a longer time.
Private health insurance is also stacked against women. Some policies require women to pay extra for private maternity care and baby scans, according to Rachel Doyle, chief operations officer at the Professional Insurance Brokers Association. A 2013 study by NUI Galway found that the average costs for maternity care attending maternity hospitals in the west of Ireland is €4,028.
A 20-pack of Always Ultra sanitary towels costs €3.35 at the Medipharm pharmacy on South Great George's Street, while an 18-pack of Lil-Lets tampons comes to €3.99.
With the average woman having periods for at least 30 years of her life and the average cycle lasting 28 days with five days of menstruation, a woman could spend up to €1,436 on tampons alone during her lifetime.
Underwear and accessories
The price of basic briefs and boxers for men are pretty similar to the cost of knickers. But when you factor in that a woman also has to be wear a bra from puberty onwards, it, it quickly becomes apparent how expensive it is to be female.
At M&S, which sells 23 million bras a year, a Limited Collection balcony bra starts at €13.50 - the matching knickers cost €7 extra. Women with large busts pay even more; at M&S, prices in the DD+ Maximum Support range start at €30.
According to the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS), women spend twice as much as men on underwear every year because they also have to buy tights. Tights are not only are more expensive than men's socks, but also need to be replaced more frequently because they ladder and tear easily. A three-pack of sheer matt tights at M&S costs €7.
The trope that women love shopping is mostly true - O'Reilly cites a recent survey indicating that women influence three quarters of all spending decisions. While women may have themselves to blame when it comes to filling their wardrobe, they cannot, unlike men, get away with wearing the same four suits to work. Women in Britain spend an average of £588 (€805) a year on clothes, shoes and accessories, compared to £322 (€440) for men, an ONS survey found.
Women are also more likely to be charged more than men for basic items of clothing. At M&S, for instance, a pure cotton round-neck men's T-shirt costs €10 and, last week, they could buy one and get one half price. But a similar T-shirt made from the same material in the women's department costs €11.
Manicures, spray tans, and waxing are not exactly necessities. But there are times when women feel like they have little choice but to splash out on these treatments, such as before going on holidays or attending a wedding. Researchers who quizzed a group of women between the ages of 18-40 on how much they pay for beauty products and treatments suggested women spend an average of £1,102 (€1,507) a year.
Women fork out more to dry clean shirts than men do, often because dry cleaners insist on calling a shirt a blouse. One study published in the journal Gender Issues revealed that dry-cleaning women's shirts costs twice as much as men's, on average.
Dryclean.ie, an online dry cleaning service that picks up, cleans and delivers laundry to a customer's home or place of work, charges €4 for a shirt to be cleaned but €5 for a blouse. Dry cleaners typically argue that there is good reason for this: men's shirts, because of their flat lines, are far easier to clean, and dry cleaners can use standardised machines to iron them. Women's shirts are naturally curvier, and require a more labour-intensive dry cleaning process.
The cost of prescriptions varies across all brands and pharmacies, but at Medipharm, for instance, it costs €8.74 a month for the Noriday progestogen-only pill, known as the "mini-pill". Prices for the combined pill, which contain both oestrogen and progestogen, range from €6.22 to €16.98, while the NuvaRing, a flexible vaginal ring that releases hormones when left in for three weeks a month, costs a whopping €18.73 a month.
Discounts apply for contraception with a six-month prescription. But that means going to the GP or a clinic at least twice a year. The Well Woman Centre and the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) clinics in Dublin charge €55 for a consultation.
Longer-term forms of contraception, which have a higher rate of successfully preventing pregnancy, cost even more. IFPA charges €150 to insert a Mirena coil, €200 for a copper coil and €120 for an implant. But women are increasingly eschewing such forms of long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) because they can't afford to pay so much, according to Dr Caitriona Henchion, the IFPA's medical director.
"Unlike other EU countries, there is no reimbursement scheme for contraceptives in Ireland and women must bear the full cost of contraception themselves unless they have a medical card," she says. "Some women are opting for a less-effective form of contraception, such as the pill, to avoid the upfront costs associated."
'My sunscreen and concealer is empty, and grey hairs have sprouted. That's another €43 gone...'
July 25: I spend €48 on getting my hair cut. During the boom, I went to a hair salon once every six weeks for a colour and cut, but these days I get a cut every three months and use a home colour. Little wonder the hairdresser is staring at my woeful barnet with slight distaste.
I'm due to meet some friends afterwards for a drink. But the minute I leave the salon it starts pelting with rain, so I pop into Dunnes Stores and spend €8 on a small umbrella so my freshly styled hair isn't bedraggled by the time I get to the pub.
July 30: I'm passing Boots on Grafton Street. I spend €25.66 on moisturiser and facial scrub.
July 31: Aunt Flo has decided to drop in and I forgot to buy tampons at Boots. So I pop out to the local Spar and buy them for €2.50.
August 2: It's Saturday night and I've gone to a pub to meet my friend for drinks. I got the bus there and could easily walk home but it's too dangerous to walk home alone. So I spend €8.50 on a taxi.
August 4: €150 leaves my bank account to pay my management charges. When I was scouting for an apartment in the city centre in 2004, I could only afford to buy in a less than salubrious area. So I chose a property in a block that comes with two concierges who double as security men, boosting the cost of my management fees.
August 6: I'm going away to Mayo for the weekend to visit my cousin and cycle the Greenway track. But the sunscreen I had for my face is empty as is my concealer, and grey hairs have magically sprouted on my temples. So I rush out to the local pharmacy at lunchtime and spend €43.27 on a L'Oreal home hair colour (clearly I'm worth it) and La Roche-Posay sun protection with matte fluid for acne-prone skin (my face has a winning combination of tiny wrinkles, freckles and a teenage-like patch of pimples).
- Gabrielle Monaghan