Pink Tax: What Does Price Discrimination Cost Women?

Women's History month is a good time to look at the “pink tax”—gender price discrimination that’s banned in many states but costs women millions of dollars each year.

money rolled up on pink background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

March is a time when tax season, and tax deadlines, are understandably on many people’s minds. But the month of March is also when some people celebrate equity and women’s achievements. For example, March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., and around the world, people celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. International Women’s Day focuses on women’s progress in different areas including economic equity. So, it’s also a good time to look at the “pink tax.” The pink tax isn’t a federal tax that can affect your income tax refund, but it’s a type of price discrimination that impacts the personal finances and lives of millions of women each year. 

Pink Tax Explained

The pink tax often refers to state sales tax on menstrual products, like tampons, and feminine pads. Those feminine hygiene products are necessities for many women. But, many states tax feminine products as luxury items, while exempting other necessities, like groceries and medicine, from sales tax.

And, because men typically don’t pay the same high prices for their personal care items (and feminine hygiene products are designed for women), the added cost on feminine and other products marketed to women has been dubbed “the pink tax.” Why pink? Well, pink is the color that is often used by manufacturers to market and brand products that are designed for women. 

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Examples of the Pink Tax 

The pink tax doesn't only apply to feminine care products. Over the years, advocacy organizations have pointed to different examples of the pink tax that include pricing discrimination involving both goods and services. Some examples include: 

  • higher dry-cleaning or tailoring costs for women’s clothing;
  • higher cost and often smaller sizes of products like women’s razors, shampoo, and deodorant, relative to the cost and size of similar personal hygiene products designed for men (e.g., when a pink razor costs more than a similar black, or blue razor); and
  • higher prices of toys or equipment marketed to girls, like pink bikes, scooters, and helmets costing more than identical red or blue bikes, scooters and helmets.

Tampon Tax: What is the Period Tax?

What is the Tampon Tax? You may also have heard the term “tampon tax.” The tampon tax or "period tax" also refers to the sales tax on the already high price of tampons. Like other period products, tampons are frequently taxed as luxury goods, even though millions of menstruating women consider tampons to be necessities. 

Pink Tax Laws

More than twenty states have passed laws dealing with the pink tax. For example, in 2020, New York eliminated the pink tax on certain goods and services. Ohio also eliminated the pink tax in 2020. 

California eliminated the pink tax with services back in 1995, and a 2023 state retail law that took effect in January, bans gender-based price discrimination on products. The pink tax ban prohibits California businesses from pricing similar products higher merely because those products are marketed to women. 

Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and Nebraska also recently either eliminated sales tax on feminine hygiene products or reduced state sales taxes on those products.

There is no federal pink tax ban, however. The Pink Tax Repeal Act has been introduced in Congress more than once. But the legislation hasn’t gained enough votes to move through the U.S House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

What did CVS do with the Pink Tax? Recently, CVS pharmacies took steps to help eliminate the pink tax. The pharmacy chain lowered prices on its branded feminine care products. CVS also eliminated sales tax on those products in twelve states where the products were more expensive because of the pink tax.

How Much Does the Pink Tax Cost Women? 

Studies show that gender price discrimination can cost women in practical, physical, and financial ways. Data from the Economic Policy Institute show that women still make about twenty percent less on the dollar than men. Similar numbers from various studies show that women are likely to spend more for necessities like healthcare, clothing, and housing as compared to similarly situated men. 

A New York pink tax study found that women’s products are on average, 13% more expensive than similar men’s products. As a result, when products that are essential for women (like feminine hygiene products being taxed as luxury items), that can have a significant financial impact.

High and rising costs of period products has also led to an epidemic of “period poverty”— where an estimated one in four women and girls cannot afford menstrual products. Period poverty affects millions of women and studies show that struggling to pay for menstrual products, or not having those products, can damage social, emotional, and menstrual health.

In terms of monetary costs, when California passed its pink tax ban, the state estimated that women paid more than $2,300 for goods and services marketed to them at higher prices than similar goods and services marketed to men. (That comes to about $188,000 over a woman’s lifetime and about $47 billion for all of the women in California). Other data show that women can pay more than $1,300 more per year because of the pink tax. 

Kelley R. Taylor
Senior Tax Editor,

With more than 20 years' experience as an in-house legal counsel and business journalist, Kelley R. Taylor has contributed to numerous national print and digital magazines on key issues spanning education, law, health, finance, and tax. Kelley particularly enjoys translating complex information in ways that help empower people in their daily lives and work.