Women may pay more for purchases big and small, according to a new study from the Government Accountability Office. The government watchdog agency completed the study after two Congress members asked it to in 2016. The results show that the so-called "Pink Tax" on goods and services sold to women is real, although often not in ways that are actionable by agencies in charge of protecting consumers. GAO researchers also found that gender-based pricing formed only a small percentage of complaints to consumer-protection bureaus. It's not known whether most Americans simply don't care, or if they aren't aware of the problem.
Here's what women pay more for.
The GAO compared the prices nationwide of personal care products that are marketed by gender, but likely don't differ except in packaging and scent. In other words, the costs to manufacture them shouldn't differ. Yet women are expected to pay more for underarm deodorant, shaving cream, razor blades, designer perfume, and body spray, the GAO found. Men pay more only for shaving gel (versus cream) and reusable razors. There were no differences by gender for disposable razors and mass-market perfume.
The GAO's study follows an analysis by New York City, which looked at more than 700 products sold within the city's borders, including toys, clothes, toiletries, and home health-care products for seniors. On average, women's products cost 7 percent more than men's, the city's consumer affairs office found.
It isn't illegal for companies to price products differently for different sub-categories of consumers, the GAO report notes.
Researchers at the GAO found weak evidence that women may unfairly pay more for mortgages, according to some existing studies. As a group, women definitely pay more, in part because they tend to have lower incomes, and therefore lower credit scores. When controlling for credit worthiness, however, three studies the GAO examined found no differences between genders. One study found women pay more for certain subprime loans. Another study found that women are less likely to default on their loans compared to men with the same credit scores. If that's true, then women may unfairly pay more, compared to their real risk as borrowers. The GAO researchers noted that each of these studies had limitations, so it's still not firmly known whether lenders truly charge women more, or if other, non-discriminatory factors fully account for gender differences.
The GAO found that studies dating to the 1990s and early 2000s suggest women are quoted higher prices on cars and car repairs, on average. Women could lower or eliminate these differences by purchasing online, or by stating an expected price beforehand.
The state of California, New York City, and Miami-Dade County in Florida have passed laws forbidding businesses to charge more for certain goods and services—including haircuts and dry cleaning—based on gender alone, but otherwise, there aren't federal laws regarding the practice.