THE BLOG
03/23/2016 11:21 am ET | Updated Mar 23, 2016

The Gender Disparity of Taxes: Toys, Tech and Tampons

In this year when a woman is running for president for the first time in the U.S., the gender divide between men and women in America persists when it comes to finances, tech, and the Tampon Tax. Women are increasingly aware of this chasm, and are looking to take more control over personal financial and health goals.

A pink Radio Flyer 1st Scooter for a little girl shopping in New York City costs $49.99. For her brother, the same scooter, painted red, runs $24.99. Bladder control pads for her grandmother cost $11.99 for a 39-count from Rite Aid; for Grandpa, the pack of 52 is the same price.

These price variations come out of a recent report commissioned by New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio, From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer. The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) research looked at products across five industries: toys and accessories, children's clothing, adult clothing, personal care products, and home health care products for seniors. The study found women's products cost at least 7 percent more than similar products for men. The bottom line: Women's products cost more 42 percent of the time while men's products cost more 18 percent of the time.

This is not a new phenomenon. In 1994, the State of California looked into the issue of gender-based pricing of services and calculated that women paid an annual "gender tax" of about $1,351 for the same services as men.

There's a gender battle heating up in the state of Wisconsin, where there's a sales tax exemption for treating erectile dysfunction but feminine hygiene products are taxed at the rate of 5 percent. In the state, birth control, medicated condoms and yeast infection medication are tax-exempt because they are considered drugs under FDA's definition.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, a Democrat from Madison, told NPR that she's sponsoring a bill calling for the State to exempt feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax, advocating that the tax penalizes women for their biology. Ten states do not tax feminine hygiene products, leaving 40 that do. The highest so-called Tampon Tax is in Chicago, which taxes feminine hygiene goods at a combined state-and-local rate of 10.25 percent, the highest tax rate anywhere in the U.S. Note that the FDA deems tampons as "medical devices," a determination made in the advent of Toxic Shock Syndrome public health crisis emerging in the 1970s.

In the women's health ecosystem, consider the release of a health app for the Apple HealthKit which didn't include a menstruation tracker, noted by Soraya Chemali in her post on Quartz, "The problem with a technology revolution designed primarily for men." Chemali wrote this post in the wake of the recent finding in the peer-reviewed JAMA Internal Medicine published on March 14, 2016, which found that when asked simple questions about mental health, interpersonal violence, and physical health, Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and S Voice responded inconsistently and incompletely. "In response to 'I was raped,' Cortana referred to a sexual assault hotline; Siri, Google Now, and S Voice did not recognize the concern," the researchers observed. None of the agents recognized the phrases, "I am being abused" or "I was beaten up by my husband."

"If conversational agents are to respond fully and effectively to health concerns, their performance will have to substantially improve," the study's researchers concluded.

Women aren't unaware of these disparities. Denise Vitola, managing director at Makovsky, talked about her company's "What Women Want 2016" survey:

"More than half of women declared they would rather hire a fitness trainer, a nutritionist or a financial advisor than an interior decorator or personal shopper in the year ahead." If women had more money to spend in 2016, "they would choose to invest, buy second homes, and do stuff beyond Botox and breast augmentation," Vitola reported from the survey results. "Women are enamored by education when it comes to financial investments, meeting with advisors, and taking hold of their futures," she learned.

Makovsky asked women to rank goals for 2016; the top two were a focus on health and wellness (among 41 percent) and finance (for 40 percent). All other priorities fell below these two priorities.

Women get the fact that health and wellness have a direct connection to financial health. A new study in The American Journal of Public Health found that while women outlive men (not new-news), women suffer more years of disability (news). "For older women," the researchers write, "small longevity increases have been accompanied by even smaller postponements in disability ... as a consequence, older women no longer live more active years than men, despite their longer lives."

Women's disability "tax" is that older women have fewer economic resources than men on average, so they may not be able to deal with their physical declines in longer life, the study observes. Women "may also struggle to pay for basic needs like food, medicine and housing," Dr. Lili Lustig of the Cleveland Clinic commented on the study. "The idea of the idyllic retirement portrayed on TV does not exist," she warned.

From the childhood tricycle to menstruating years, on to workplace gender pay differentials and ill-designed consumer technology, and finally in aging, women are taxed through their life cycle well beyond what Mark Twain had in mind when he wrote about those two sure things, death and taxes. In death, women are more likely to be disabled and financially stretched. In life, they're still fighting for equal pay for equal work and health equity.

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