NYC retailers must close the consumer gender gap

It may be common to go to a dry cleaner outside of New York City and see different prices for men’s shirts and women’s blouses.

In the city of New York, this disparity has been illegal for almost two decades. In 1998, a joint investigation between the City Council and Department of Consumer Affairs found that women were frequently charged more than men for the same services across different industries, including at laundry and dry cleaning establishments. Today, the New York City Administrative Code prohibits services from being priced differently based on gender – posted prices must reflect actual differences in required labor.

However, businesses in New York City can still set their own prices for products and there is no law that prohibits gender pricing for products.

That is why at the Department of Consumer Affairs we decided to conduct a comprehensive survey of consumer goods to see where these gender-based pricing disparities persist. The results of our research were recently published in a report, “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer” and detailed systemic differences and concerns in the prices of goods for women versus those for men. Whether it is a pink scooter priced at $49.99 versus an identical red one priced at $24.99, these differences were across the board. 

Our study looks at nearly 800 products across multiple categories, including personal care, clothing (both for adults and children), toys and home health care products for seniors, and found a gap in the price of products for women versus men:

- The average price for all goods analyzed was 7 percent higher for women than men.

- The largest price discrepancy was in hair care, where products for women were more than 45 percent more expensive than for men, with an average difference of $2.71 per set of shampoo and conditioner.

- We looked at two children’s scooters of the same brand and model; one was red and one was pink. The red scooter was labeled as a “sports scooter” with a price of $24.99, while the pink scooter was labeled as a “girl’s scooter” with a price of $49.99, double the price.

We are all too familiar with our society’s gender gap. The U.S. Census Bureau shows in its most recent American Community Survey that women across the nation earn roughly three-quarters of what men earn. Not only are women paid less than men, we are also then charged more for basic goods.

Current laws only prohibit businesses from setting prices for services based on gender. Although they are free to set their own prices for products, we urge retailers to take this issue seriously and put an end to gender-based discriminatory practices. The city of New York has sent letters to the major retailers reviewed in the survey encouraging them to reevaluate their pricing practices.

Consumers should also be wary of these gender-based discriminatory practices and think twice before automatically buying the “female version” of any product. A red scooter is just as good as a pink one – color does not change value. We need to stop paying higher prices for being women. 

Julie Menin is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.