Why it Costs More to Be a Woman

It's expensive to be a woman in this country. Collectively, we fork over $426 billion a year on our hair, nails, and beauty products. But glamour aside, for services that we all need - like insurance, housing and healthcare, - women are still paying more than men.

I tapped Lea Goldman, Features and Special Projects Director at Marie Claire Magazine, whose article, "Why Women Pay More" exposes the harsh realities of price discrimination.

"The state of California found, on average, that women were paying a markup of about $1,351 that men weren't having to pay for the same goods and services," she says. "We looked at women cross the country...and found that on average women pay $151 billion in extra fees and markups that men don't have to pay."

Some of those items that are more expensive for women include everyday toiletries, such as disposable razors, shaving creams, shampoos and soaps - all dressed in prettier packaging, but functionally identical to those sold to men. According to one study, researchers examined 200 deodorants sold at major drugstore chains and found that deodorant for women cost, on average, 30 cents more per ounce - and the only difference was the scent.

Some dry cleaners, too, appear to take part in price favoritism, charging slightly higher prices to clean a woman's shirt. According to Goldman's research these dry cleaners claim our tops are more labor intensive to clean and require special machinery.

And the list of perpetrators goes on.

Women have long been aware of unfair price discrimination in the hair care industry, though we seem to voluntarily buy into this practice, spending twice total what men do on their hair. Salons say the time and the artistry involved in a women's mane more than justifies a 10-50% mark-up but then, is it fair to charge more if you have, say, Justin Bieber's, haircut?

Now, many will argue that it's, in fact, men who face price discrimination. For example, some establishments charge more for a man-icure or a man's wax because, they claim, men's grooming takes more time and effort.

This is similar to the reasons a salon might charge more for a woman's hair cut, or a dry cleaner charges more for a woman's shirt: it's simply more work, they say. In fact, what appears to be discriminatory pricing is really just the cost of doing business. So why all the fuss?

Goldman says it's because these price differentials spread much further than just the cost of errands and grooming. "The big ticket items that women pay more for include everything from mortgages, health insurance, life insurance, home repairs, car repairs, across the board all the biggest big-ticket expenses in your life you'll probably pay more for than men," she says.

Perhaps it's no more apparent than in the health care industry where 92% of the top insurance plans charge women more - and that doesn't include maternity services. Starting in 2014, under the Affordable Health Care Act fourteen states have banned gender rating. But in states that haven't made changes, glaring price discrepancies still exist. In Kentucky for example, a healthy woman pays 14% more than a smoking male for the exact same coverage. In Florida, women pay over a thousand dollars more per year in health care premiums; this is because they often have to pay extra to cover inadequate maternity coverage, or take on the brunt of maternity care on their own, an average of $9,600.

These are huge financial burdens with lasting consequences. Let's not forget, too, that women still make less than men, 74 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. So how are businesses getting away with this?

There is no federal law banning gender pricing so across the country it really varies by state to state and also by city to city.

As a consumer, here's how you can fight back:

First, refuse to patronize businesses that blatantly discriminate. By letting the company know you'll be going elsewhere because of their unfair price differences, it may be enough to get their attention. Maybe they'll change their ways or, at the very least, try to win back your business

Next, no one says you have to pay more for women's products: If it costs less and does the same thing, who cares if you use a man's deodorant or shaving cream? If the fragrance is an issue, get the kind for sensitive skin, which is usually scentless.

Comparison shop. This may sound like an obvious tip, but Goldman says women tend not to be as aggressive in this area as men, especially when it comes to mortgage rates and cars.

Finally, if you suspect you're being charged differently because of your gender, report it. "Contact your local representative be it a mayor, Congress person, let them know that you're not okay with it, give them specific examples in an email and letter so they know what they can investigate.

Have you experienced price discrimination? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh, and use the #FinFit.

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