Women usually pay more for a haircut than men. They pay more to dryclean their shirts. And also more for grooming products like deodorant and razors.
This is called gender pricing – a common retail practice where women (and sometimes men) are charged differently for the same (or similar) products or services.
Gender-based pricing is commonplace in the United States, where haircuts are notoriously more expensive for women, while men often fork out more for manicures.
When California banned gender-based pricing in 1996, analysts estimated women would save around $1,350 each annually under the new law.
Last year, the issue gained impetus in France when a blog called ‘Woman Tax’ set out to expose instances where women were paying more for ostensibly the same products as men.
According to the blog, women are being flogged products like deodorant, backpacks and earplugs when male versions are often available for much less.
While this might sound unfair, fetishists argue that a market economy’s basic premise of supply and demand legitimises the practice of price hiking. If someone is willing to spend the money on a haircut then so be it.
But is it fair? Yahoo7 Finance looks at both sides of the story.
Price discrimination in Australia: A reality check
Australian consumers are not protected from gender-based pricing and a lack of specific laws ensures the practice largely goes unchecked.
Certain products aimed specifically at women, such as razor blades, shaving cream and perfumes, are often more expensive than their ostensibly identical male versions.
We checked out product pricing at some of our leading retailers and this is what we found:
At Woolworths, Schick offers a packet of six razors ‘Exacta 2’ for $4.12. Meanwhile in the men’s section, a packet of six blue Schick ‘Exacta 2’ razors costs $4.07.
Same goes for Bic razors sold at Woolworths, which appear to be identical other than the colour and packaging.
Perfumes branded with exactly the same name are often more expensive for women.
At Myer, a 90ml bottle of Burberry Brit Rhythm costs $132.00 for women, while the men’s version costs just $112.00.
David Jones isn’t any different. DJ’s sells both men and women’s Davidoff Cool Water perfume for $59.00 – except that the bottle aimed at women holds 100mls, whereas the men’s is 125ml.
Michael Cone is a partner at US law firm Fisher Broyles and has been campaigning against gender-based pricing in the United States for over a decade.
In an interview with Yahoo7 Finance, he says companies often exploit the fact that men and women are different and often require different services or products – even when in many cases they don’t.
“They get away with it because people buy into advertising. Male babies are outfitted in blue and baby girls in pink. It’s an advertising campaign that has become engrained.”
“Consumer society is creating false gender attributes (ie women aren’t supposed to have hair on their legs or under their arms) and the market is going to exploit those differences),” Cone says.
Another service that is affected by gender-based pricing in Australia is drycleaning.
Women’s shirts tend to cost more to dry-clean – around $7 more - apparently because they don’t fit in the pressing machine that has been designed for men’s shirts (despite unisex machines in existence) – so instead they have to be hand pressed.
Greg Wrobel, a dispute resolution experts, says that aside from big-picture anti-discrimination laws, there are no specific legislative requirements on this issue.
“While this may be a big issue in the EU, it is not clear if it has filtered through to the Australian market,” Wrobel says.
‘Self-regulation is enough’
In 2001, a Victorian Government inquiry into marketplace discrimination recommended the Fair Trade Minister consider amending the law to include the prohibition of marketplace discrimination on the basis of gender.
But no specific legislation was ever passed and industries are instead expected to self-regulate their prices.
Russell Zimmerman, the head of the Australian Retailer’s Association, says there is no need for more red tape when it comes to regulating the retail industry.
“Retailers have to bring it into line themselves. Retail is so competitive we don’t need more regulation,” Zimmerman tells Yahoo7 Finance.
Zimmerman does admit that in some instances it might be an issue.
“We do hear about it from time to time, not from a retail perspective, but from consumers maybe in some instances like haircut prices,” Zimmerman said.
Some hairdressers may well have learnt the hard way after a Melbourne woman took a prominent hair salon to court in 2000 after she was charged $56.00 for exactly the same haircut as her male counterpart, who paid $38.00.
While the hairdresser was ordered to introduce a unisex price list, no broader legislation was introduced to combat broader gender discrimination in the industry.
Is gender pricing ever fair?
In some supermarkets, men’s and women’s products that are lined up next to each other, such as deodorants or socks - tend to have identical pricing.
But when products are displayed on different shelves or aisles making it difficult for the customer to compare, that’s when price disparities tend to occur.
Contrary to Zimmerman’s views on self-regulation, Cone says there should be specific laws when it comes to gender-based pricing.
“It should be illegal to charge a man or woman based on gender and not a specific service,” says Cone. “I don’t think self-regulation is enough.”
But where gender-based pricing does exist, it is often difficult to prove.
As is often the case for products like moisturisers, men’s products tend to come in smaller bottles and named differently to those marketed towards women, so proving a product is identical could be an issue.
And if ironing a woman’s shirt is more labour intensive because the drycleaner’s pressing machine is only suitable for men’s clothes – what’s the argument against it?
“It would be unlawful to offer different terms and conditions for the same goods or services on the basis of gender,” says Holding Redlich workplace relations and safety partner Michael Selinger.
“The question will always be, though, whether the goods and services being offered are the same or not,” says Selinger.
Cone does however believe that on occasion, gender-based pricing is justifiable.
He gives the example of car insurance costs, where statistics support a gender-based pricing strategy.
“Who are the people that that are driving crazily? Young men. So does it make sense for insurance companies to charge a higher premium because it is based on behaviour? I think so.”
“The EU doesn’t allow gender-based pricing for insurance. I think that’s a mistake,” says Cone.
But Cone is adamant that when production costs are the same, as is the case of the blue and pink razor, it becomes invidious discrimination.
“When is it not ok? When the profit margin is higher for exploiting stereotypes.”
* The Australian sex discrimination officer Elizabeth Broderick was asked to comment, but declined on the basis that she was not informed on the topic.
You can follow Ingrid Fuary-Wagner on Twitter at @ingridFW1