Gender Equality Comes to the Cash Register

When it comes to style, men and women pay the same

A couple years ago, the New York  City Department of Consumer Affairs announced the results of its study titled “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer,” focusing on gender pricing disparities among products sold locally. The study compared nearly 800 products with clear male and female versions from more than 90 brands sold online and in stores at two dozen New York City stores, and found that, on average, products for women cost 7 percent more than similar products for men.In addition, across the entire sample, women’s products were priced higher 42 percent of the time. These findings suggest that, over the course of a woman’s life, she potentially pays thousands of dollars more than a man to purchase similar products.

Some refer to the cost difference as the “pink tax” because products marketed to females tend to be pink and often cost more than gender-neutral or men-targeted products. Although there may be legitimate drivers behind some portion of the price discrepancies—such as ingredients, textiles, and import tariffs—these higher prices are mostly unavoidable to shoppers.

In California, the Gender Tax Repeal Act was enacted in 1996 to prevent businesses from discriminating on the basis of gender when charging for similar services. Follow-up legislation in 2017 will help get the point across: The Small Business Gender Discrimination in Services Compliance Act requires the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to develop informational material for use by certain businesses that explains their rights and obligations. The acts are intended to prevent businesses from charging a woman more than a man for a similar service just because she is a woman. These certain businesses are:

  • Barbers and hair salons.
  • Tailors or businesses providing aftermarket clothing alterations.
  • Dry cleaners and laundries.

For example, a dry cleaner can’t charge more to clean a woman’s garment if that garment is receiving the exact same treatment as a man’s.

However, while the law aims to prevent price discrimination based on gender, it does not prevent price differences based on the amount of time, difficulty, or cost of providing the services. For example, a hair salon may vary prices based on hair length or the time it takes to cut an individual’s hair, but cannot, for example, offer separate prices for men’s and women’s haircuts based solely on gender.

So how do you exercise your rights as a consumer and make sure you’re treated fairly?

Look for a posted price list. This is required by law for the businesses listed above. The list must clearly and completely display pricing for every standard service, which would be the 15 most frequently requested services there. The sign must also be posted in an area conspicuous to customers and printed in boldface type no less than 14-point size.

Request a written price list. The law also requires the affected businesses to provide the customer with a complete written price list upon request.

File a complaint. If you feel that your rights have been denied by a business, you, the attorney general, or any district attorney or city attorney, may file a civil complaint in the appropriate court. Check with your city or county court offices or your attorney for next steps. You may also contact the state Attorney General’s Office at (800) 952-5225 (www.ag.ca.gov).

To learn more about the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995 or the Small Business Gender Discrimination in Services Compliance Act, visit the California legislative information website at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov and California Civil Code section 51.6.

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