Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

What is the ‘pink tax’ and how does it hinder women?

A woman shops as the so-called pink tax continues to impose an economic burden on women.

A woman shops as the so-called pink tax continues to impose an economic burden on women. Image: Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Spencer Feingold
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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Gender Inequality

  • Gender-based price disparities are known as pink taxes.
  • The pink tax has long imposed an economic burden on women—especially since women continue to earn less than men.
  • The United Nations has called on countries to eliminate the pink tax to ensure women have full and equal access to economic participation.

Men and women often buy similar day-to-day products. But research shows that consumer products targeted and advertised to women are sometimes more expensive than comparable products marketed to men. This disparity is referred to as a so-called pink tax.

Gender-based price disparities are prevalent in several sectors, but one of the most visible is personal care products. These include, for example, soaps, lotions, razor blades and deodorants that are marketed specifically to either women or men.

In the United States, one government study analysed 800 gender-specific products from nearly 100 brands. The report found that, on average, personal care products targeted to women were 13% more expensive than similar men’s products. Accessories and adult clothing were 7% and 8% more expensive, respectively. The study concluded that "women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives to purchase similar products as men." Another US study found that dry cleaning prices for women’s dress shirts were upwards of 90% more expensive than for men’s shirts.

Meanwhile, an analysis in the UK found that women’s deodorant was on average 8.9% more expensive than men’s. Women’s facial moisturiser was 34.28% more expensive.

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Economic burden of the pink tax

The pink tax has long imposed an economic burden on women around the world—especially since women continue to earn less than men.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, released this week, found that when it comes to wage equality for similar work, only five out of the 146 countries analysed achieved scores higher than 0.80. (A score of 1.0 would mean full wage parity). Moreover, 129 countries this year reported a reduction of women’s labour-force participation relative to men's. The gender pay gap, the report found, is one of the most salient factors contributing to the overall gender-based wealth inequality.

Efforts are underway to curb the pink tax. In fact, the United Nations has called on countries worldwide to take steps to eliminate the pink tax to ensure women achieve full and equal participation in the economy.

In the US, proposed federal legislation called the Pink Tax Repeal Act remains pending in the Congress. “The pink tax is blatantly discriminatory, affecting women from all walks of life from the cradle to the grave,” Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.

As part of understanding the pink tax, researchers and policymakers also examine the imposed costs of products necessary for women to buy that are not necessary for men, like tampons.

Advocates have long worked to lower or eliminate taxes on tampons and other feminine sanitary products, recognizing the burden they place on women—especially those on lower-incomes. Several countries—including Australia, Canada, India, and Rwanda, among others—have eliminated taxes on tampons and other feminine products.

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