Why do women pay extra for products?

In the UK, as in the US, women routinely pay more for the same, or identical, products marketed at men. The difference, which is sometimes referred to as the pink tax, can range from a few percentage points, to twice as much. Sometimes, the only difference is that the product is pink; other times, not even that. The list includes products as varied as razors, deodorant, vests, moisturisers, jeans, trainers, bicycles, haircuts, perfume and toys.


Here are some examples taken from the report “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer” commissioned by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, and available here.

[Images Source]


And here are some examples taken from the article “The sexist surcharge – how women ​get ripped off on the high street”, authored by Paula Cocozza, and published in the Guardian (available here).


[Images Source]


What is it about women’s buying behaviour that explains why companies get away with charging this pink tax?


  1. Preferences (R)

One possibility is that women value pink / glitter / small and, so, they are prepared to pay more for that. Let’s call this preference R. That’s the argument presented here, for instance.


That is possible. Society does condition children, for instance, to behave in certain ways, and play specific roles. Just look at the toys’ section in many department stores; or think about how we say things like ‘cute girl’ vs. ‘clever boy’. If women think that they need pink (or whatever) in order to be good / successful / accepted in society, then they may be prepared to pay more for that.


However, social conditioning does not explain all the differences, because the ‘pink tax’ also applies to products that have not been ‘pinkified’. So, what else could explain the pink tax?


2. Information (q)

Another possibility is that women do not realise that the products are different. For instance, Nurofen has been put on the spot for charging nearly twice as much for its ‘Nurofen Period Pain’ than it charges for its standard Nurofen pills, even though both products contain the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine 342mg (you can read about it here). While the two different products may be identical in every single aspect but the packaging, most of us do not know that. So, if the packaging suggests that the two products have different attributes, most of us will believe that.

pink tax 8


A similar scandal occurred ten years ago with contact lenses. As described here, for instance, daily contact lenses are virtually the same as monthly ones, but sold at very different price points.


Let’s call this inability to access the true quality of product, due to information asymmetries, q.


3. Costs

A third possibility is that women pay more for products marketed at them vs. identical products marketed at men because they incur additional costs to buy the male version of the product. Let’s call this C. For instance, women may be busy and, thus, unable to afford the extra time to browse the men’s aisles. This is possible because, on average, women spend more time than men on paid and unpaid (e.g., housework) work.


In addition to search costs, women may also incur experience costs. That is, they would like to buy the men’s version of the product, but they have a negative experience when they do so. For instance, some sales people are less than pleasant when selling cars or electronics to women. And I would tell you about the time I had my haircut at the barber’s, but I will save that story for another time.


In summary, there are many reasons why women might end up paying more for products that are virtually identical to products marketed at men, be it because social conditioning makes them prefer those products {R}, because information asymmetries mean that they are unable to distinguish those products {q}, or because they incur search or experience costs {C}. It’s economics.


But there is more to pricing than economics. There is also fairness. When customers realise, or feel, that firms are taking advantage of them, they do not like it. At all. I think that any marketer worth his/her salt will make fairness central to the pricing strategy. After all, who in their right mind would want to upset 50% of the market?


3 thoughts on “Why do women pay extra for products?

  1. I always buy men’s vests. A) they cost less than the women’s and b) they are a bit longer so if they shrink during washing (and they will shrink), they are still long enough whereas the women’s sometimes are then too short. :-/
    Regarding “experience cost”: I went to an outdoor store to buy hiking shorts.
    This is what I was looking for: olive colour and several pockets. Ideally at least one pocket that could be zipped/velcroed.

    Women’s section: 3 plain olive shorts, others will pink/purple/blue applications.
    Out of the three plain olive shorts, none had pockets that could be zipped or even velcroed shut.
    Two had pockets which would barely hold a handkerchief.
    So I went to the men’s section and within a minute had a dude looking at me asking what I was doing. “Looking for shorts.”
    He practically yelled at me “This is the men’s section!”
    When I calmly explained to him that their women’s section was shite and did not have what I was looking for, he actually checked there first and then came back and reluctantly looked through the men’s section for me.


    1. That’s just absurd – how can shop assistants be so rude?! What if you actually liked men’s clothes for whatever reason (other than the perfectly rational reason that there are better and cheaper options, there)?

      I confess that I don’t usually peek into the men’s section at a clothing store – but I will certainly start doing that, now.

      Thanks for stopping by, Nicky.


  2. Very insightful article, Ana, thank you.
    And useful feedback from Nicky on clothing, I never check the men’s section nor had I realised the items are 1) cheaper and 2) suitable for me as a woman.
    A friend of mine had mentioned this price difference for road bikes, where women’s can be 30% more expensive. She ended up considering a men’s one, but the sizing was definitely not right for her and she ended up having to fork the difference for the same model for women… sad!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s