Radio Flyer sells a red scooter for boys and a pink scooter for girls. Both feature plastic handlebars, three wheels and a foot brake. Both weigh about 5 pounds.
The only significant difference is the price, a new report reveals. Target listed one for $24.99 and the other for $49.99.
The scooters’ price gap isn’t an anomaly. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs compared nearly 800 products with female and male versions — meaning they were practically identical except for the gender-specific packaging — and uncovered a persistent surcharge for one of the sexes. Controlling for quality, items marketed to girls and women cost an average of 7 percent more than similar products aimed at boys and men.
The New York office’s Julie Menin, who launched the investigation over the summer, said the numbers show an insidious form of gender discrimination. Compounding the injustice, she said, is the wage gap. Federal data show women in the United States earn about 79 cents for every dollar paid to men.
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“It’s a double whammy,” Menin said, “and it’s not just happening in New York. You see in the aisles the issue is clearly applicable to consumers across the country.”
A Target spokesman said the company lowered the price of the pink scooter after the report was released Friday, calling the discrepancy a “system error.” (The retailer blamed the same kind of glitch last year after catching heat for selling black Barbies at more than double the price of white Barbies.)
When asked about the price differences of other gendered toys — like the Raskullz shark helmet ($14.99) and the Raskullz unicorn helmet ($27.99) or the Playmobil pirate ship ($24.99) and the Playmobil fairy queen ship ($37.99) — the representative pointed to a company statement, declining to elaborate: “Our competitive shop process ensures that we are competitively priced in local markets. A difference in price can be related to production costs or other factors.”
Researchers for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs pored over toys, children’s clothing, adult apparel, personal care products and home goods sold in the city. The largest price discrepancy emerged in the hair care category: Women, on average, paid 48 percent more for goods like shampoo, conditioner and gel. Razor cartridges came in second place, costing female shoppers 11 percent more.
Walgreens, for example, peddled a blue box of Schick Hydro 5 cartridges for $14.99. The Schick Hydro “Silk,” its purple sibling, was priced at $18.49.
Across the New York sample, women’s products carried higher price tags 42 percent of the time, while men’s products cost more 18 percent of the time.
Boosting prices according to who’s buying is nothing new. Hairdressers often charge women more. Nightclubs sometimes demand more cash from men for admission.
The pricing differences extend beyond basic services and goods. Until courts knocked the practice down, insurance companies in Europe charged women more because women live longer. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies in the United States cannot factor gender into cost.
New York City law has banned gender discrimination the pricing of services since 1998. Businesses cannot legally charge more for haircuts or dry cleaning, for example, based on the patron’s sex. They must instead offer gender-neutral rates by labor intensity.
That doesn’t mean local companies always follow the rules. City consumer affairs inspectors issued 129 violations for gender pricing of services this year, compared with 118 in 2014.