The so-called pink tax is an alleged tendency for products consumed by women to be more expensive than similar products consumed by men. In 2015 NYC put out a study under mayor Bill DeBlasio alleging a 7% pink tax across a range of goods. The pink tax is implausible. Products produced in competitive markets will be close to marginal cost. Even if firms have monopoly power it’s not obvious that women have systematically more inelastic demand curves–indeed, the stereotype tends to be that women are the more careful shoppers. Preferences differ systematically across genders leading to subtly different products even in categories which appear similar on the surface. To give just one example, the NYC study compared the price of a single 2-in-1 men’s shampoo+conditioner product to the combined price of a women’ shampoo plus a women’s conditioner (oz per oz). Give me a break. There are reasons why a one-and-done hair product appeals to men more than to women and why this will also be correlated with other characteristics which make the all in one product different and likely of lower quality.
In anycase, economists Sarah Moshary, Anna Tuchman and Natasha Bhatia have done a much more complete and careful study and they find that once you control for ingredients and compare like-to-like there is no pink tax. Indeed, sometimes men pay a bit more. Overall, there are no big savings from cross-buying. Women and men could save money by buying products primarily marketed to the opposite gender–like 2-in-1 shampoo+conditioner–but only by buying products that they prefer less than the products they choose to buy.
We find that the pink gap is often negative; men’s products command higher per-product prices in six of nine categories that we study and higher unit prices in three of nine categories. We then estimate the pink tax via a comparison of products manufactured by the same firm and comprising the same leading ingredients. Men’s products are more expensive in three of five categories when we control for ingredients. These findings do not support the existence of a systematic price premium for women’s products, but our results do reveal that gender segmentation in personal care is pervasive and operates through product differentiation. A back-of-the-envelope calculation implies that the average household would save 1% by switching to substantially similar products targeted to a different gender.