The extra cost of being a woman

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This past Sunday was International Women’s Day – a cheering reminder of how far people who identify as women have come in recent decades. From voting rights to education to workplace participation many of our lives have changed drastically for the better. Transgender women's rights are slowly improving along with same sex marriage rights (the first couple who had a same sex marriage in Northern Ireland were two women!). But when it comes to our personal finances, there’s still a long way to go – and it’s not women’s fault.

In 2020, it still costs more to be a woman than a man. Not necessarily because of what women are buying, but because feminine-branded products that are aimed at women are often more expensive, and women are expected to spend our money on things that men are not.

Then there’s the gender pay gap, which sees full-time workers who are women earning on average 8.9% less than their counterparts who are men. The gender pay gap is even bigger for women of colour. According to the most recent research available by the Fawcett Society and Manchester University, for Bangladeshi and Pakistani women the aggregate gender pay gap with White British men stands at 26.2%, while for Black African women the gap is 19.6%.

Women also have a longer life expectancy, and are more likely to take career breaks to raise the next generation.

So, where exactly is this money going – and why?

Toiletries and products aimed at women are more expensive than the equivalents for men

It’s widely known that personal hygiene products marketed towards women are generally more expensive than the male equivalent. This “pink tax”, as it’s been dubbed, means women end up paying far more for items that are otherwise virtually identical to versions for men.

Several analyses have been conducted on the UK high street. Female-branded razors cost 49% more than the male equivalent, the Times found, with Tesco selling five own-brand “female twin-blade disposable razors” for £1, compared to 10 almost identical blue razors for the same price. The supermarket seems to have introduced gender-neutral razors online since.

Women’s facial moisturisers, meanwhile, can be up to 34% pricier than men’s, according to RIFT. This is £10.77 versus £8.02! Then there's perfume which, unsurprisingly, also costs more if you want a women's version. Refinery29 found that the female versions of some brands were £20 more expensive than male equivalent fragrances in a branch of Boots.

On average, women’s products cost 13% more than the equivalent for men. Hair products were the biggest offenders, with versions for women costing 48% more, followed by razor cartridges (11% more for women).

These price discrepancies quickly add up when you consider how frequently we all purchase personal care products. “Women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives to purchase similar products as men,” concluded the DCA. A quick way around this? Shop in the men’s section.

Sanitary products cost the average person over £1,100 in their lifetime

If it weren’t unfair enough that the average person who gets periods will spend at least £1,155 on these unavoidable products in their lifetime, these items are also subjected to the same 5% VAT rate as ‘luxury’ items such as perfume and chocolate-covered biscuits; rather than being considered ‘essential’.

After years of campaigning against the “tampon tax,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce its abolition in this week’s budget, but it won’t be implemented until December when the UK leaves the EU. The move is predicted to save people £40 over a lifetime.

Clothes aimed at women are often more expensive than men's clothing too

The “pink tax” also applies to items in women’s wardrobes, too. The Times found a 46% difference between Levi’s 501 jeans for women and the same jeans for men with the same waist and leg length; while the Independent compared a women’s roll-sleeve white t-shirt costing £12 in Topshop to a virtually identical item costing £8 in Topman.

In its study, the DCA found that, on average, women’s versions of the same clothing cost nearly 8% more than men’s. While in theory the discrepancy could be explained by differences between how men’s and women's clothes are constructed, the DCA highlighted that retail prices are set by the retailers, not manufacturers. “Price differences are due to business considerations, and because women are generally willing to pay higher prices for their clothing than men, they often are charged more.”

And then there's the 'grooming gap'

Unlike men, people who identify as women are often more expected to maintain a “groomed” appearance at all times, particularly in the workplace – and meeting this expectation isn't cheap. This discrepancy has recently been dubbed the “grooming gap”. Women are expected to shell out on a plethora of products and treatments to “look the part”, and in certain sectors, like the service industry, they’re penalised if they don’t.

One study found that physically attractive workers of all genders have higher incomes than average-looking workers, but among women – not men – this disparity can be eliminated through grooming. In other words, when women buy makeup, haircuts, hair removal treatments and the like, they actually increase their earning potential. Men’s grooming rituals, by contrast, are quicker, simpler and crucially, cheaper.

A study by Groupon found that British women spend on average £70,294 on their appearance in their lifetime, on everything from gym memberships to manicures and minor cosmetic procedures. That’s £1,352 a year, or £112.65 each month. Another investigation into haircuts found an average price difference of £16.80 for a basic cut at five UK salon chains. Not all women have more hair than men, but women are generally charged more, regardless of hair length.

And new data shows the same is happening in the US housing market too!

This is a big one. Data from the US also suggests that women are being shortchanged in the housing market. A recent study from the Yale School of Management, of over 50 million home sales between 1991 and 2017, found that single women pay an average of 2% more for the same house as single men and sell for 2% less, due to a so-called “gender gap in negotiation”. The study said women, unlike men, are penalised for even attempting to negotiate.

Simply knowing the gender of the other party in the negotiation can affect how much a property sells for, and it’s a situation that’s costing women in the US $1,370 (£1,043) per year on their homes.

Tell us what you think by tweeting us! Have you experienced similar costs related to identifying as a woman? We'd love to hear your thoughts 💭