A macaron has emerged as a popular dessert in recent years. Even though it was quite pricy, people were willing to spend the money to buy it. However, the Pink Tax wave, which emerged in 2015, has hit the macaron market as well. People who claim the price of a macaron is inflated due to Pink Tax believe the price is deliberately priced high because most consumers of macarons are women. On the other hand, some people say that it is natural for the price of a macaron to be expensive because the process of making a macaron is complex. Despite the controversy as to whether a product’s pricing is due to Pink Tax or not, there is a growing call to boycott products suspected of Pink Tax. SMT takes an in-depth look at why Pink Tax discriminates against women.
Pink Tax Exists Everywhere
Pink Tax is the added value to an item when it is purchased by women. A male customer would not pay this added cost to buy the same product. Pink Tax is prevalent in Korean society. Women pay higher prices at hair salons and extra costs for the same service as men, and women’s comfortable clothing are more expensive than men’s. An experiment conducted by GirlTalkHQ, a nonprofit organization in the United States, in downtown Toronto, Canada in 2016 fueled the Pink Tax debate. In the 2016 experiment, the same cup of brewed coffee was sold at $2 for men and $3.5 for women. Customers did not hide their anger and refused to buy coffee. According to the report 'From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer', female products are on average 7% more expensive than similar male products. Also, women’s clothing cost more than men’s in six of seven categories, with the exception of underwear, which cost an average of 29 percent more for men.1) GirlTalkHQ determined that women consumers spend more than $2,000 a year than men, which equates to $100,000 more than males throughout their lifetime.
Controversy over the pros and cons of Pink Tax has come to light, and people who argue that it does not discriminate claim it’s a matter of supply and demand. Their argument is that if consumption decreased so would the price. They also say that it is the woman’s choice to make a more expensive purchases than to select a cheaper or more comfortable and simple design item. Others state that it is natural for women’s products to cost more since they require more time and effort to make. “Since women are more sensitive to design and trends than men, women’s clothing is inevitably more expensive as production requires more time, costs, and personnel,” a clothing company spokesperson said.2) Nevertheless, people who strongly object to Pink Tax say there is a need to discuss actual usage of an item by women and men. Kim Yong-sub, consultant and columnist, says it is clearly gender discrimination when the price is only increased when design or coloring is slightly altered in order to attract women consumers.3) There is a call for men and women’s products to become uniform. There is also demand that there be no distinction between women and men's products as a gender-discriminatory system before telling the choice of products.
The Cost of Color Pink
Pink Tax can be separated into three specific types. The first is additional cost merely because of gender. This type is the most widely known Pink Tax since much publicity has been given to this type. Products that are affected by this type include daily necessities. However, this type is most clearly seen in the price of a haircut. In most cases, women pay more to have their haircut than men. To realize the Pink Tax in hair salons, SMT visited 23 hair salons near Sookmyung, whose main target consumers are women. Among those visited, Pink Tax exists at 11 of them, which means almost half of hair salons near Sookmyung add Pink Tax to their prices. The average additional cost added to a haircut at the 11 hair salons adding Pink Tax, was 2,636 won. These findings show that women pay more to cut their hair than men. When asked, a hairdresser working near Sookmyung, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the price difference is due to the frequency of customer visits to a hair salon. “Men typically have their haircut once a month but women only every two months.” In other words, women pay more simply because they are less frequent visitors to a hair salon than men. Also, while some claim that price is related to hair length, the difference is related to gender because usually there is no mention of hair length on the pricing list.
The second type of Pink Tax is added cost due to differing levels of quality. That is, women paying the same prices for the product with a lower quality than that of men. The second type is also Pink Tax due to the prices to production costs, which means sellers earn more from female products, especially clothing. In August 2018, this type of Pink Tax came to the surface when an outdoor brand promoted men and women’s goose down filled jackets, which were all pre-sold, at the same price but at a different level of quality. The price was the same for both genders, and original design and production material were similar, too. However, the quantity of the goose down feather filling differed. For the men, Korean sized 100, jackets, it contained 425g but the female, Korean sized 90 jackets, only contained 283g. Considering the 4cm length difference, many female consumers raised their voices because the price was the same with different amount of goose down.4) In other words, the price gap of women’s clothing between production cost and selling price is higher than that of men’s clothing.
Last, Pink Tax is added for women-only items. One common example is the sanitary pad and tampon issue which women need. The pricing is at the heart of the social debate. According to Seoul National University Hospital, the menstruation cycle for women starts at the age of 13 and continues until the age of 50 on average. The cycle is usually 28 days, and a woman’s period lasts about 5 days. The average price per sanitary pad is 331 won according to the Korea Consumer Agency, and a woman who is menstruating uses about 6 pads per day. Based on these numbers, a woman pays 4,170,600 won on sanitary pads. Countries such as India and Kenya and some states in the USA have eliminated tampon-tax because they are deemed a necessity for women. In the case of Korea, sanitary pads have been exempt from VAT since 2004, which is much earlier than most other nations. However, according to a report from Seoul Foundation of Women & Family, the price per sanitary pad in Korea is 331 won whereas Denmark (156 won), Japan and the US (181 won), Canada (202 won), and France (218 won) all price it under 300 won. For its higher pricing compared to other countries, the added cost is suspected to be Pink Tax, even though there is no official VAT.
We Did Not Choose Pink
Movements around the world are calling for an end to Pink Tax. Individuals are coming together to stand against Pink Tax. Others are boycotting products or services that add Pink Tax and publically criticizing discrimination in consumption by women. A representative example in Korea is the Korean Women’s General Consumption Strike (KWGCS). It is a movement started after the Women’s Day Off in Iceland in 1975 when 90% of Icelandic women rallied for equal rights. The KWGCS has proceeded with female consumers criticizing Pink Tax and misogynic adverts with the slogans such as, ‘When we stop, the world stops’. Participants in the KWGCS stopped making purchases on the first Sunday of the month and posted their joining of the strike on SNS. It’s been a full year since the beginning of the strike, and KWGCS has received 3,225 hashtags on Instagram as of May 7, 2019. Even though the KWGCS strike is not solely about Pink Tax, it does highlight the need to eliminate Pink Tax by raising awareness of social inequality in terms of consumption. According to the KWGCS Instagram account, KWGCS stated that it expects to stop the Pink Tax by showing the economic power of women.
Some companies have started to eliminate Pink Tax by setting reasonable prices for products by abolishing discriminatory factors and creating gender-neutral prices or campaigning against Pink Tax. Campaigning includes raising social awareness. For the former example, the European Wax Center located in the US publicizes Pink Tax with the #AxThePinkTax campaign. Participants in the campaign post proof of Pink Tax on their SNS so that others learn more about it. The hashtag #AxThePinkTax was added to 2,162 posts as of May 13, 2019. To increase the attention paid to the issue, the website AxThePinkTax calculates the amount of Pink Tax a user has paid on purchase using a study that claims women pay an extra 1,351 dollars. In addition, some businesses have started to set gender-neutral prices for unisex clothing and haircuts. That is, consumers pay the same price for the same quality regardless of sex. Despite these changes, it is still easy to spot Pink Tax on items at hair salons, supermarkets, and department stores. To fully realize equality, women’s organizations argue that it is imperative for companies to acknowledge the female consumer and introduce a completely Pink Tax-free system.
Last, governments in some countries are trying to restrict Pink Tax. In the case of California in the US, the state established an equal pay law that makes it illegal for any company to set an item’s price based on gender. A similar law was proposed by a politician in the UK. Last March, the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament Christine Jardine introduced a bill that would ban pricing based on gender. Even though the bill has yet to be passed, the fact that it has been brought to parliament is important for change to happen. Currently, there is no regulation regarding Pink Tax in Korea except for the case of sanitary pads, which is exempt from VAT. One individual, however, created the petition “Do You Know Pink Tax” in June 2018. The petition focused on gender discrimination payments, especially at hair salons. “Why should I sit back and pay Pink Tax, which makes women poorer, while there are wage and employment discrimination,” the petitioner wrote in the petition. The petitioner asked on Congress to introduce a bill that prohibited Pink Tax. The petition received 5,372 signatures, so it went unanswered by Cheong Wa Dae. Without any initiative by the government to ensure basic consumer rights and stop discrimination based on gender, the discrimination of female customers will likely continue.
Pay and Treat Equally
Until recently Korea and many other countries did not address the pricing of products for female consumers as higher than men products. Pink Tax is connected to the quality of life since it snatches away the opportunities to do other things with lost money women pay out for Pink Tax. However, women around the world are starting to raise their voices little by little to eradicate Pink Tax through legislation, company reforms, and individual conscious-awareness. All consumers, in respective of gender, must be treated equally because they are all human beings. This can only be realized when the “default” is equality, not discrimination.
1) Bill de Blasio & Julie Menin, “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer”, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), December 18, 2015
2) Kim Sunghee, "[What Is the Controversial Pink Tax] "Eliminate Consumption Inequality" vs "Price due to Supply and Demand"," JoongAng Sisa Magazine, July 16, 2018
3) Kim Youngsub, “[Classup] What If You Add Money Just Because You’re a Woman?”, Bizhankook, September 25, 2017
4) Kim Eunyoung, “”Goose Down Filled Jacket, How Come the Prices Are Same When the Goose Down for Female Is Half of Male’s?” Female Consumers Got Angry”, The Chosunilbo, August 18, 2018
Kim Ma Seunghee / Editor-in-Chief
Ahn Ha Yura / Cub Reporter