There’s been a lot of hoopla in the last year because Marie Claire wrote a long article about how women essentially pay more to exist (Marie Claire). It seems that commentary and responding articles have latched on mostly to the section where the writer discusses how much more it costs to have women’s shirts dry cleaned than men and why exactly that might be (Jezebel, MSN). But what interested us at FutureDerm was the charge that women pay more for personal products and services, even when their products or services are the same. In fact, a Consumer Report found that women’s products typically sold for slightly more than men’s products (Consumer Reports). Companies’ and service providers’ explanations differed; some saying that women’s products cost more to manufacture and others saying that pricing is at the discretion of the drugstore, as well as the charge that women are fussier and expect more. But not everyone thinks this is unfair, and some don’t think these differences are quite as extreme as some say.
Do Women Pay More for Personal Products?
One study found that women pay more for deodorant, but little else, by looking at several factors including price per ounce. Consumer reports found that women pay more for everything, but didn't elaborate on how they came to their conclusions.
Researchers in a University of Central Florida study wanted to document whether men and women pay different amounts for services and products (Gender Issues
). But the researchers chose not to try to figure out a reason why, simply to understand whether there was a discrepancy in pricing at all. They discovered that women pay, on average $0.30 more per ounce of deodorant than men do. In other products, however, the researchers didn’t see the same differences that some outlets have reported. In particular, women paid more for body spray, but not for ounces per container nor price per ounce. Women also didn’t pay more shaving cream and gel or for razors, whether sold individually or packaged together, researchers said. This is a difference from what Consumer Reports said, since they found that women pay slightly more for almost all of these products.
Do Women Pay More for a Haircut?
Women usually pay more for haircuts because salons charge under the assumptions that women have longer hair and more time-intensive haircuts.
“Women are more fussy.” “Women are more difficult.” “Women expect more.” These are a few of the comments, as well as few acknowledgements that gender-based pricing was unfair, that Catherine Liston-Heyes and Elena Neokleous received when they brought up this discrepancy (Journal of Consumer Policy
). The pair called unisex salons in the UK and asked the price for a man’s haircut and then the price for his female partner with the same hairstyle. Inevitably, the pair found a mean difference of £4.95 between the men’s and women’s cuts (even when they were virtually the same), with women paying more. Some of the salons did
agree that the pricing was unfair and offered to give discounts if the couple made appointments together, but that didn’t change their regular gender-discriminatory prices. In New York, salons and spas were recently under fire for charging different prices for men and women. But these prices weren’t solely
to the detriment of women. While ladies paid more for haircuts, the men paid more for manicures, with the salon owners citing labor and time as the reasoning (Wall Street Journal
). In fact, some argue that these prices exist because natural differences between men and women make them different sorts of clients. For example, because men tend to have more hair, it takes more time and energy to wax them.
Breaking this Information Down
As it turns out, men and women do pay different prices, but it's based more on how much time and labor the business estimates they'll spend on the average man or woman.
There are no studies that go deeply into the claims that women’s products contain ingredients that cause them to be more expensive, so it’s difficult to tell whether this is truth or myth. Several articles cited a study in California done in the 90s that showed women pay an average of $1351 more for comparable goods, services, and fees. But this includes costs such as health insurance and, thus, isn’t a good indicator for personal care costs. Both the deodorant study and several articles say that women’s products cost more, in part, because they’re willing to pay more, i.e. if women chose to buy men’s products instead on a large scale, then it would drive down the price of women’s products. As for services, some of these pricing differences are unfair, but not necessarily for the reasons one might think. The problem with gender-based pricing in salons is that they're based on generalities about men and women. Women usually
have longer hair and, therefore, more labor intensive haircuts. And men tend
to have dirtier, less kempt nails, and therefore take more of the manicurist's time. Therefore, salons create their prices based on the assumption that in a majority of cases, these stereotypes will hold true. It’s not at all unfair to charge for more labor or time, as a New York Times Upfront article
explains. It’s a business’s right to charge what they feel is appropriate and a consumer’s decision whether or not to pay that price. That said, charging based on gender might not be the best system. It would be more logical and efficient to drop the pretense that there are truisms about the grooming habits of men and women and instead use scales for services. For example, some salons charge patrons based on the length of their hair, which would help make charging see more objective.
Women do pay more than men for certain goods and services related to personal care. But, then again, men pay more for some of these too. Often times, prices are set based off of stereotypes that we make about men and women, which isn’t the most effective system (at least when it comes to services). It would make much more sense in the service industry to use a scale based on measurable traits, such as charging by the length of hair for a trim. As for products, it’s difficult to say whether women are paying abundantly more than men, as there aren’t enough studies to make that judgment. But if you want the best deal, go for the cheaper product (as long as it doesn’t matter — as with a razor) regardless of whether it’s marketed for men or women.