"Sexist Surcharge" - Should women have to pay more on the high street?

Women shopping

A recent newspaper investigation discovered that women, on average, pay more than men on products targeted at them. Birmingham City Business School's Dr. Steven McCabe looks at the issue in depth.



On first view this might seem like a peculiar story that harks back to a different age. The idea that you pay higher prices for something simply because it is intended for use by women would, in the supposedly egalitarian age in which we live, seem absolute nonsense. However, research indicates that this is exactly what is occurring.

The Times newspaper carried out an investigation, showing that women who purchase products aimed at them pay on average 37 per cent more. This is not just a British phenomenon either, as the French finance ministry carried out an investigation which discovered that women shoppers there experienced the same overcharging. 

A study carried out in New York found that female shoppers are charged prices that are on average seven per cent higher than their male counterparts. There should be a rational explanation for this.

This explanation appears to be based on a belief that assumes women will happily cough up more because they are convinced by marketing campaigns that, as the strapline used to go, “they are worth it”. As some commentators suggest, the additional charge is effectively a “sexist surcharge”, a “pastel tax” or a “pink premium”.

It might be argued that making direct comparisons is not straightforward because products designed to explicitly cater for female needs or tastes will be different. An example that is cited is face cream which both sexes are encouraged to use; especially men who want to be ‘metrosexual’. However, how can cosmetics be more expensive to produce for women rather than men? Another was pens that were pastel-coloured and slightly thinner in order “to fit women’s hands” and which, amazingly, were £22 for a box of 12 rather than £1.99 for 10 standard ballpoints.

Therefore one is left with the conclusion that companies and retailers are engaging in simple exploitation of females who believe that their gender requires them to pay more. And the attention that this story has generated will hopefully lead to embarrassment by the offenders. This will take time. In the meantime, unfortunately, the best way for change to occur is by protest.

Women shoppers should boycott goods that are overpriced. As commodity producers are fully aware of at the moment, over-supply is a powerful motivator to reduce price. In the year 2016 we have surely got past the point where females should expect to have to pay more for goods. The fact that four years ago the magazine Forbes suggested that the price gap costs women almost £1,000 a year is surely something that we should be ashamed of particularly given that pay is still skewed in favour of men.

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