By Libby Kane
NEW YORK (LearnVest) -- No one doubts that women spend more on certain things than men when they have different needs.
Makeup. Hair products. Waxing. Gyno appointments.
But then there are the charges you don’t see coming. Imagine $2 tacked onto every errand you run. Two bucks is pretty inoffensive on its own, but as anyone who has ever stuck to a budget knows, dollars add up quickly.
After reading in Marie Claire that dry cleaners charge more to clean a woman’s button-down shirt than a man’s, one of our editors tested it out herself by visiting her local dry cleaner in New York City. Lo and behold, her plain shirt cost $4 more than a man’s would have, because “the machine couldn’t fit shirts from a smaller person.”
California, the first state to ban gendered pricing in 1996, found that, on average, women spent an extra $1,351 per year in these extra costs and fees.
We like being women. We just don’t like being charged for the privilege.
So what exactly are these costs, and how can we opt out of the “woman tax”? We’ll tell you.
At the Drugstore …
In 2010, Consumer Reports found that equivalent products in a drugstore, like deodorant or shampoo, cost more if they were marketed to women. They asked the manufacturers why and almost across the board, the companies said it was more expensive to manufacture products for women.
“They are completely different formulations,” said one spokesperson of two antiperspirants with the exact same percentages of the exact same ingredients. Representatives of the offending companies also cited differences in packaging and foaming action (which women apparently requested) as reasons for disparate pricing.
A study from the University of Central Florida drew similar conclusions. It found that on average, women’s deodorants were priced 30 cents higher than men’s, when “the only discernible difference was scent.” It’s a similar case for most products marketed to women, such as razors and shampoo, which smell different and look different but at the end of the day serve the same purpose as scent-less, glitter-less versions.
On Anything Imported
Part of the reason this happens is because products for women cost more from the get-go, starting when they enter the United States. Marie Claire tells the story of a trade lawyer named Michael Cone, who was sifting through the list of tariffs (fees the U.S. charges to import goods from other countries) and noticed something incredible: The tariffs differed across gender lines.
For example, men’s sneakers were taxed at 8.5%, while women’s were taxed at 10%. Not every garment tariff he discovered was in favor of men, but he did find that women were susceptible to higher taxes on those goods imported to the U.S. at the highest volume. While there is no legal loophole or ostensible reason for the discrepancy, Marie Claire points out that there’s a history of bias in tariffs–before the Civil War, it cost less to import cheap wool so slaveowners could clothe their slaves. At this point, inequality in tariffs is just the way it has always been.
Cone gathered together over 100 companies to join him in the discrimination lawsuit he brought against the U.S. government, promising millions of dollars of unconstitutional fees if they won. The suit is currently pending.
… And at the Doctor’s Office
And then there’s health insurance. Here’s a startling fact: A nonsmoking woman often pays a higher premium than a smoking man. Women pay a total $1 billion more on annual health care costs than men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The discrepancy is called gender rating, and in states that haven’t banned it, 92% of the top insurance plans charge women more.
Insurance companies say that women pay more because they’re more expensive customers who utilize more health services. While there are the obvious reasons (there is no male equivalent to the gynecologist, and women are the only ones seeing doctors when pregnant), most plans that discriminate, according to new research from the National Women’s Law Center,don’t cover maternity services.
There is also the fact that healthy men don’t go to doctors like healthy women. Research consistently proves this: A Louis Harris and Associates survey of over 4,000 men showed that not only did three times more men than women avoid the doctor in the previous year, but that a third of those men surveyed had no regular physician. A 2011 survey from Esquire Magazine found similar results.
Therefore, women demand more from health insurance … and pay for it.
What You Can Do
At least there’s some good news. Under the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law, ten states have already banned gender rating in health insurance. The law says that by 2014, all insurance companies must stop pricing differently for women.
But that’s just health insurance. What about everything else? Marie Claire has compiled a convenient list of Congresspeople and their contact info if you’re incensed enough by this information to demand a federal law outlawing gendered pricing. No pressure … but it’s pretty upsetting stuff!
And then there are the steps you can take on the ground, like buying products made for men when they’re cheaper and fit your needs (who cares if you use men’s shaving cream on your legs?), refusing to patronize businesses that blatantly discriminate in their pricing and shopping around for the best possible health insurance if you’re purchasing an individual plan.
Sure, there may be unfair charges for being a woman. But you can do your part by being one lady who won’t shop where they’re levied.
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