Closing the Gender Pricing Gap

By Sallie Krawcheck

So this is the kind of gap that sneaks up on you. In 1994, the state of California published a study on the average annual cost of consumer product goods and found that women paid on average $1,351 more per year for equivalent products as men. Now put that in today’s dollars and…you get the point. It’s a lot of dough.

Let’s tally this up: We women make less on average than men, and pay more on average for the same goods. What’s more is after the 1994 study, research and legislation around this hasn’t picked up as much as you’d expect. We haven’t seen another comprehensive study on the average annual surcharge on consumer goods for women in more than two decades. And only California, New York, and Miami-Dade county have laws against price discrimination based on gender. Even there, they are scarcely enforced.

The research tells us that in virtually every purchase that requires negotiation, we women pay more.

For some recent examples, check out the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs’ 2015 Cradle to Cane report. One of the most eye opening points is that this starts early — we’re talking infancy. Girls’ toys and clothing are more expensive than boys’, and the products are typically only different in color or style. During the holiday season, you can head to Target and pay $25 for a red boys’ scooter. The same exact scooter in pink: $50. Mmmm...that’s not going to fly.

What’s a conscious consumer to do?

Shift the economics of gender pricing. (Yes, this will take a lot of us — so we suggest you start by emailing this guide to your girl-squad.) When the market perceives a higher willingness to pay, it will price goods at a higher cost. If Schick knows you’ll shell out an extra $3.50 on razor blades because they’re pink, you bet they’re going to charge you $3.50 more than they charge for men’s blades.

Do your homework on what the price is for comparable goods, and make sure you pay for the value you’re getting, not for what you’re asked to pay for.

Believe it or not, there are options out there (some are admittedly creative), and voting with your dollars is one of the most effective ways to influence change.

A few examples:

1. Again, razors

Women pay 11% more, on average, for both razors and razor blades, which adds up to about an extra dollar each time you buy either one. I won’t name names, but think of all the major players.

Here’s how to shave for less: Check out Dollar Shave Club. They started out as a subscription service for men, and then realized savvy women were subscribing because it was a better deal. The company has adapted to market their products at the same prices to women.

Who knows, maybe what’s coming next is an even smarter company which will enter the market with a similar value proposition designed just for women? (If you’re inspired, see Chapter 5 on how to get funding for a great business idea.)

2. Clothing

For some classic denim brands, you’ll pay $20 more for a pair of similar quality black jeans because they’re women’s jeans. Men’s single pocket button down shirt versus the women’s “boyfriend” version? Tack on $30. (P.S. — when do you think they’ll start making the “girlfriend” shirt?)

Who’s on our team in this space? Uniqlo, for one. This Japanese fast casual retailer has equal pricing by gender for virtually every category analyzed in the NYC consumer study. You can also find brands who are more equivalent, on average, than the others. Gap and Banana Republic, for example, charge women more for some articles of clothing, but also charge men more with a similar frequency. Where available, you may also find Unisex options from brands like American Apparel and James Perse.

3. Haircuts

Women’s haircuts cost upwards of 25% more, on average. Yes, it’s true that women’s cuts can take longer depending on the style. But is it fair to charge all women more than all men? Don’t think so.

Find a salon that charges by time or by length, not by gender. They’re starting to pop up more and more (especially in Canada and the U.K. — fingers crossed we catch up soon.) Asking your long-time stylist if he’s considered this; it would probably help us speed things along.

4. Cars

The research tells us that in virtually every purchase that requires negotiation, we women pay more. One example is cars. Because women are less likely to ask for a better deal, we are quoted higher prices and end up paying $200 more on average at dealerships. Ask the right questions, do your homework before you go, and don’t let anyone strongarm you into buying something you’re not sure you need.

5. Dry Cleaning

Yes, this one’s such a big offender that even Barack Obama is fired up about it. Similarly to haircuts, business owners rationalize charging women more for their dry cleaning by saying women’s clothing takes more work, and more time. But twice as much time? Because women pay almost twice as much, on average, to have a shirt dry-cleaned. WTH, right?

So here’s the strategy. Avoid trips to the dry cleaners altogether whenever you can. They’re a time suck anyways. One of the best kept secrets of professional women everywhere is a personal garment steamer (the kind they keep at department stores to remove wrinkles.) Buy one and it will give you a few extra wears before you have to go to the professionals. Another tip: make sure you read the tags closely. There’s a big difference between “dry clean” and “dry clean only.” A hand wash cycle and a mild detergent can take care of more than you think.


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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Co-Founder & CEO of Ellevest. Her life’s mission is to help women to reach their financial and professional goals.