The pink tax, or the fact that certain products accrue a price premium when they are targeted specifically at women – with the most frequently quoted example being the razor – is a long-publicized phenomenon with a body of supporting research. In fact, a recent story by CBC reported that when it comes to personal care products, women can pay in excess of 40% extra, as opposed to their male counterparts.
However, as with many complex issues, further investigation shows that the truth is not so simple; it may not be only women who lose out as a result of gender-based mark-up. As a survey by coupon provider Couponbox demonstrates, the dreaded pink tax has its mirror image: the blue tax.
Like the pink tax, the blue tax represents a premium charged on subsets of consumer goods when marketed in a gender-specific manner. Whereas women are more likely to incur this premium when buying underwear, moisturizer, or a host of other goods, men are more likely to find themselves paying extra for deodorants, suits, and sporting apparel – to name but a few.
But is gender-based pricing fair, or is it a hangover from more rigid times?
In a country where the Prime Minster himself has been more than outspoken about the need for gender equality, it seems something of an anachronism to charge people a premium based on nothing more than their gender. Indeed, many companies – Couponbox being one – offer deals and strategies to beat gender-based mark-ups.
On the other hand, the practice of profiteering via culturally or perceptually-based markups is not solely associated with gender.
Perfumes, branded fashion apparel, and even restaurant wines and champagnes are all known for their high markup compared with the costs attendant on their production. In these instances, it is what the product signifies to the consumer that justifies the additional spend: in the case of a pair of Nike trainers, one is buying not only footwear but the associated image of high achievement, urban chic, and sporting prowess that the Nike brand team work hard to promote.
But when it comes to the pink and blue tax, these associations may not be so innocent.
It appears that the question of gender-based pricing’s ethical nature comes down to this idea: are the cultural attitudes signified by the pink or blue tax those that modern consumers wish to support? Or in other words, is it right to think of male formalwear as somehow more important than female, or that, for women, underwear is more important than it is for men?
Given the changing attitudes of the times, the answer to these questions would seem to be a resounding no. After all, the notion that men are the primary breadwinners, while women are more valued for their sexuality, belongs more to the ’50s than to the early 21st century.
If change is truly desired, however, it is up to people as consumers to signal their desire to companies. And in that respect, deals designed to beat the gender tax might not just make good fiscal sense – they might, in fact, be a meaningful form