Pink Tax? Tampon Tax? Gender Discrimination in the Consumer Market

The pink tax has become synonymous with the tampon tax. The pink tax as defined by the federal Joint Economic Committee refers to the higher prices for specifically targeted female consumer goods than male targeted consumer goods such as razors or pens. The tampon tax refers to the state sales tax imposed on menstrual products such as pads and tampons. Several activists have brought the disparity in gendered consumer goods and the sales tax on menstrual products to the attention of their state and federal politicians. But considering the fact that a majority of the states still continue to tax menstrual products and the findings of the Joint Economic Committee on the “Pink Tax” released in 2016, it seems that little action has been taken to correct this wrong.


Photo Courtesy of CNN Money


While state sales tax places additional cost on several items we purchase on a daily, there are exemptions to the tax. Items that the state deem as necessaries are excluded from this tax--items such as lube and viagra are exempted. The sales tax imposed on menstrual products indicates that the right to be clean and safe due to a biological function is considered a luxury.  While menstrual products can be costly already, women have to endure the economic burden of paying taxes on an essential item. According to California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Assembly Bill 1561, a bill to end the tampon tax, would save all menstruators approximately $20 million annually.


Our state legislatures must recognize the importance of having access to menstrual products free from a tax based on our biological function. Taxing menstruators for their menstrual products should not be a source of revenue for our states. It places an unnecessary burden on all menstruators. As of right now, there is currently only nine states that exempt menstrual products from their sales tax: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Florida, and Connecticut.

Photo Courtesy of Tax Foundation


While the tampon tax is a literal tax, the broader phrase “pink tax” refers to the differential prices for gendered consumer goods. There are multiple examples of such goods. For example, the BIC For Her Ball Pen Pack of Two was $4.97 compared to the BIC Black Ball Pen Pack of Two for $2.47. Schlick Slim Twin Disposable Women Razors were marked at $7.99 compared to the $4.99 Schlick Slim Twin Disposable Men Razors. A study conducted by the New York City Department for Consumer Affairs found that at least 42% of the time women's consumer goods were priced higher than male consumer goods by New York retailers.  

Photo Courtesy of the Joint Economic Committee “Pink Tax” 2016 Report


Why? Why does there seem to be higher prices for female consumer goods? The 2016 report by the federal Joint Economic Committee listed several possible explanations: tariffs, product differentiation, price discrimination, and price fixing. The federal committee speculate that there could be higher tariffs on female consumer goods leading to the price increases in the consumer market. Product differentiation refers to the packaging and advertising of these gendered goods. The argument follows that female targeted goods may incur more charges due to the colors or packaging design leading to higher consumer goods. Another argument is that retailers and manufacturers know that women are willingly to pay more for the gendered consumer goods: this thus allows for the differential pricing for similar goods. The final explanation is price fixing: when a market isn't competitive, retailers can charge more than usual for their consumer goods.


These possible explanations are not satisfactory and neither is the lack of action by our state and federal government to address these issues. Local activists must organize and demand their state legislature to stop taxing menstrual products. Our states budget must not depend on this tax. We must also bring awareness to the gross disparity in pricing for gender specific consumer goods. As the federal government report implied, the federal government can prevent retailers from forming monopolies in female personal care items to maintain competitive prices. We must not be silent and continue to be further burdened by higher prices for similar items and taxed for our biological functions.