Being a woman is expensive. It’s a well-reported fact that everyday products—from razors and deodorants to jeans—cost more when marketed toward women than men. The crummy additional news is that women start getting ripped off right from their first sippy cup, an injustice that will persist until the day our pink, sequined coffins are finally lowered into our overpriced “Hers” graves.
The argument du jour is that it’s simply costlier to manufacture women’s goods: That feminine floral scents are more expensive to produce than Generic Man Clean, that the features of our bodies require additional sewing finesse to properly account for the complicating presence of boobs. It’s bullshit, of course, but nothing elucidates why it’s bullshit quite as vividly as the cost of children’s toys.
It took me around 20 minutes to dig up multiple examples of a so-called “pink tax” in children’s toys—functionally identical items that are several dollars more when sold in the color pink versus the color blue. As of Friday, the Ty Tinker Blue Bear was $29.99, while the Ty Pudder Pink Bear was $34.99. Fisher-Price’s Power Wheels Jeep Wrangler in blue was $194.63, while the identical Barbie Jammer in pink was $214.88 (the blue car’s price has been raised slightly, but is still less than the pink car).
I’d also noted that this Schwinn was discounted to $70.38 from $79.99 in blue, but full price in pink. Those bikes are now priced identically at $79.99, and the same shift has occurred for the bears. The changes in price happened after I emailed Amazon and asked for comment on the price discrepancy; though there’s no indication that my poking at this issue is why there’s been a shift, the company did not respond to my request for comment.
The evidence for the “pink tax” even among girls and boys is more than anecdotal: A 2015 study conducted by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs found that girl’s toys cost more 55 percent of the time, and that girl’s clothes cost more 26 percent of the time. General toys were found to cost around 11 percent more for girls than boys.
(Though the study was conducted by an NYC agency, the investigation focused only on national retailers.)
Who do we blame for this lunacy? Jenn Steele, the director of product marketing at the consumer data firm Indix (and a former product marketing manager at Amazon), says that when it comes to the online retail giant, it’s the sellers who are responsible for setting their own prices. Some do it algorithmically, and others—typically smaller operations—do it manually. But why retailers price things the way they do is anyone’s guess. Marketplace sellers are under enormous pressure to have their products featured in the site’s coveted “buy box,” often adjusting the cost of their items multiple times a day in an attempt to optimize their visibility.
“If you’re finding consistently that pink sippy cups are more expensive than the exact same sippy cup in blue, then the marketplace could be putting pressure on sellers to drop the prices of the blue ones more,” Steele said.
“But this is so much supposition. Because I could also say, ‘OR they might just be jackasses, and they’re doing it because they can.’”
The better question, said Anna Chu, Vice President for Income Security and Education at the National Women’s Law Center, is what such price disparities say about the company setting them.
“These practices of charging more for pink goods—how does that speak to [a company’s] overall policies about how they treat women and men?” she asked. “Are they the same companies who inexplicably pay 79 cents for the dollar that men are paid?”
The truly pernicious part of the price disparity in children’s toys is that it’s only the beginning. Over the course of their lives, women will pay more for everyday items 42 percent of the time, despite the fact that we make less money than men.
“You’re basically squeezing women and families from both ends of the stick,” Chu said. “You’re squeezing them at their cost of living, and you’re squeezing them at the wage end, too.”
The bad news is that there really isn’t any way of forcing retailers to set their prices fairly—at least not yet. In July, Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the Pink Tax Repeal Act, which would prohibit companies from charging different prices for similar products based on the customer’s gender.
Following the release of the report, New York’s Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs Lorelei Salas told me that some sellers did voluntarily even out their prices. Still, “it’s a little hard when you don’t have the stick of penalties or fines when you find an issue like that,”she said.
The best recourse women have is to vote with their dollars—why shouldn’t a little girl have a green Power Wheels? Especially if it costs 50 bucks less than its pink counterpart.
“Fundamentally, I don’t think retailers are going to change their behavior until we change our buying behavior,” Steele said, adding that she herself as altered many of her own buying habits as a result of her research.
“If the pink is more expensive, don’t buy it. Buy the green! Green is cheap. Awesome.”