The Cost of Doing Femininity: Gendered Disparities in Pricing of Personal Care Products and Services

Abstract

Economic discrimination has been a major focus of gender research for the past several decades and such studies reveal a persistent gender wage gap. This study examines another aspect of the interaction between gender and the economy that has been largely ignored by social scientists—gender-based disparities in the cost of goods and services in the personal care industry. We examine prices charged for personal care products and services that are targeted toward women or men and find that women pay more than men for certain items and services. Our research suggests that although the differences are not uniform across types of services or products, women do tend to pay more than men for items such as deodorant, haircuts, and dry-cleaning. We suggest that such practices contribute to gender inequality by increasing women’s economic burden and reinforcing essentialist thinking about gender (i.e., that women and men are biologically different).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Price discrimination is widely acknowledged among economists, who are primarily interested in the conditions under which price discrimination “works”; that is, when are consumers willing to pay more for identical or similar items? [8, 34].

  2. 2.

    Following the release of this report, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed into law a bill preventing gender discriminatory pricing practices within the city of New York [31].

  3. 3.

    We recognize that women’s and men’s haircuts are not identical and that hair represents major ways in which gender displays are accomplished. However, these stylistic differences are separate from the price differentials, which is the focus of this study.

  4. 4.

    We were unable to obtain information from five salons (2 no answer, 1 disconnected line, 1 no longer in business, 1 refused to give prices over the phone). In these cases an alternate salon was selected into the sample via a random number.

  5. 5.

    Some salons reported a price for a “woman’s cut and style” and a “man’s cut.” In order to account for these discrepancies, prices were recorded for just women’s and men’s cuts, excluding style, for these particular establishments. Several of these salons did not have a starting price for a women’s cut without a style. In these situations prices were recorded for the women’s cut and style and a man’s cut.

  6. 6.

    A total of eight dry cleaners were eliminated from the original sample. One of the telephone numbers proved to be a non-working number, one number was a fax machine, and another business had stopped accepting clothing for dry cleaning. The final five businesses refused to provide their prices over the telephone. Eight alternate dry cleaners were then selected, again using a list of randomly generated numbers, resulting in a final sample of 100 dry cleaning establishments.

  7. 7.

    The determination of whether a product was marketed to women or men was made by an examination of the product’s labeling (e.g., Arrid for Men) and marketing message (e.g., Degree’s men deodorant “protects men who take risks”) and/or the categorization of the store by aisle organization (physical stores) or website organization. In no cases was it unclear which products were for whom.

  8. 8.

    The cost of a women’s haircut was used to create a variable representing the type of salon, as there was a wider range of prices for women’s cuts than men’s overall.

  9. 9.

    We do know that products such as razors, body spray, deodorants and the like tend to be manufactured in countries that have relatively low wages [39] and therefore, the higher cost of women’s products is not likely to be based solely upon these labor costs.

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Correspondence to Liz Grauerholz.

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Duesterhaus, M., Grauerholz, L., Weichsel, R. et al. The Cost of Doing Femininity: Gendered Disparities in Pricing of Personal Care Products and Services. Gend. Issues 28, 175–191 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-011-9106-3

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Keywords

  • Price disparities
  • Doing gender
  • Consumer products
  • Sociology of the body