20 Comments

I remember when I was a kid paying twice as much for Topps basketball cards from a cigar shop instead of CVS because the cigar shop was "lucky".

I remember also feeling as if there was something magical about beanie babies, because they were rare or something, compared to other almost identical toys.

Pure examples of paying up, delusionally, for something of no intrinsic value.

Nowadays I fight with my wife because I want to buy generic everything - toothpaste, clothes, soda, etc. I want to kill her for buying bottled water but she swears it tastes different.

Everyone knows you can rip kids off in the way I describe.

And I think most people know women tend to be easier to rip off - to get to value something illusory - than men too.

There are a variety of reasons I think. Partly it's because of greater fashion consciousness - something everyone should be aware of. Lesser appreciated I think is female risk aversion.

The small risk that generic aspirin, slippers, or tap water might be not as good as the real thing bothers them more; you see the same thing in eagerness to go to the Doc to for sniffles - just in case!

Sensitivity to fashion (conformity) + risk aversion.

This is the sort of thing that's not obvious only because you're not supposed to notice how obvious it is.

(By the way, don't buy $15 WalMart shoes if you're active - they disintegrate!)

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When Hanson says "theories," he really seems to mean possible flaws in the study. It is a bit confusing. Hanson:

So, what could firms be thinking? Well one obvious hypothesis is that the study cited above fails to control for enough relevant features of quality.

Robin's "obvious hypothesis" really has nothing to do with "what the firms could be thinking."

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"some people seem to think that firms purposely raise prices on women just to be mean to women, or kind to men"

No they don't. You clearly have never read ANY of the extensive literature on this subject and what explanations have been offered, so your attempt to "try to list the possible theories" is pathetic.

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My guess is that women have higher preference for buying a gendered product (as opposed to a gender-neutral product, not the product for the opposite gender).

Imagine that there are three identical products, different only in packaging: gender-neutral P0, marketed to men PM, and marketed to women PW. My guess is that a man is more likely to go "either P0 or PM, whichever is cheaper", but a woman is more likely to buy PW. Therefore the price of PW can be slightly higher than P0, but the price of PM must be comparable with P0.

This is a testable hypothesis, if someone can find the complete sets (P0, PM, PW) and compare the prices of all three.

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Depends on which school of feminism you ask. Whatever position you take in these matters, there will always be some (splinter) group accusing you of sexism. It's really like asking a bunch of christian and muslim scholars how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

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"if female-gendered products are too expensive, buy the male version."

I think your typical girl walking down the street doesn't really care that much. It makes her feel good to buy and use pink razors and she's willing to pay extra to do it. Especially if it's her husband or father or predominantly male taxpayers in general who are ultimately footing the bill.

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"sexist" = "does not unequivocally favor women"

I remember reading about a feminist complaining that average Medicare spending per year was greater for men. But when you think about it, this is simply because (1) on average, women live beyond age 65 more years than men; and (2) Medicare tends to spend a lot of money in the person's last year of life.

Ultimately I think it's the same with these sort of price discrepancies. Our culture believes that women should have nicer stuff than men. And a lot more money is spent on womens' products than mens'. Which is fine, but this will tend to push up prices for womens' products.

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Is it important if a theory is "sexist"? Isn't it more important that it is true?

The mere fact that a male tenured economics professor feels the need to preemptively defend himself against charges of sexism on a blog makes me worried that there might be a lot of sexism aimed against male economics professors.

That can't be good for the enterprise of finding truth in economics.

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A while back I had to do an analysis of clothing prices across tens of thousands of products. I found that something like two thirds of all clothing was geared towards women, the rest to men or children. The effect on pricing (measured in terms of the most discerning features for a random forest model) of the clothing being geared towa men or women was close to zero once I corrected for clothing type, print and fabric. Of course these results only apply to clothing types that are unisex: it may well be that skirts are much more expensive than men's jeans. Shoes were not included because EU-cpi regulations classify shoes separately from clothing.

I think women are willing to spend more on products that allow them to physically stand out (make up, non-unisex fashion, extravagant shampoos, creams, perfumes, etc...) Men are usually willing to spend more on cars, computers, etc... Typical status increasing stuff both sexes.

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It's interesting that many of the goods at issue are children's products, particularly children's clothing. With children's clothing it's normally a woman who is buying the goods whether it is for a male or female child. So I don't think it's just a matter of female shoppers being more interested in quality or perceived quality, being more loyal, etc.

I do know, from simple observation, that parents, especially mothers, seem to like the idea of buying cute clothing for their daughters. More so than for their sons. And this idea continues as the children grow up: Parents (correctly) assess that for social reasons, it's more important for their daughters than for their sons to wear nice clothing to school; to have nice haircuts; etc.

And this pattern continues into adulthood. There are just a lot more consumer goods aimed at female consumers than male. It's interesting that there is a whole chain of stores dedicated to girls' underwear (Victoria's Secret) with essentially no equivalent for men. Even outside of clothing, there are a lot more grooming and beauty products aimed at female customers.

So my WAG is that there is simply more consumer demand; more dollars chasing consumer goods for females; so there are more people willing to pay a premium; so prices are higher.

That said, the study in question probably exaggerates the discrepancy by categorizing some unisex products as male. I haven't looked at it carefully, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are some apple/orange comparisons. For example, since mens' clothing is less fitted, it's probably cheaper to make in terms of sizing.

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My guess is that women who buy gendered razors/toothbrushes/pens are more quality-focused and less frugal than the general female population. On the other hand, I think your post and several of the comments are unduly suspicious of a study that, from my perspective as a female shopper, only seems to confirm the obvious (and irritating). Occasionally very irritating: I imagine I feel roughly the same about having to go to the men's aisle for my razor blades as most men would about having to visit the tampon aisle for theirs. I could buy nearly identical ones in the women's aisle, but they cost more. That does seem a bit unfair. (And, of course, very intentional and smart. Every time I get conned into paying more for a gendered product (q-tips in a pink package is an excellent example), I can't help but think, "Target, you magnificent bastard." )

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Couple of thoughts:

1: There aren't that many things that are specifically targeted towards men with an essentially identical item being targeted towards women. Some personal care products are like that, but not many. So I am really suspicious of their claim of 800 products (I bet it is a bunch of different brands of a small set of products). What there tends to be instead is a unisex version and a female version. In those cases, the female version being more expensive makes rational economic sense as it is providing an extra 'feature', even if it is only signalling.

2: Women actively dating or in relationships tend to be economically subsidized. This will also encourage them to not be as aggressive on shopping by price.

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Yes.

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One area that should be examined is the prices that they are using. They appear to be using list prices, i.e., no discounts, sales, etc.

A possible theory is that women are more subject to standard forms of price discrimination (coupons, sales, seasons) than men. Since we don't see quantities traded at the list price, we have no way of knowing if the price discrimination is based upon high-willingness-to-pay women being charged more of a differential over low-willingness-to-pay women than is true for high- versus low-willingness-to-pay men. The male aspect may just be a sideshow.

More anecdotally, my wife stocks up on shampoo for her and the girls when there's a sale. I buy the cheapest available shampoo when I run out of the little bottles that I took home from the hotel (and I don't want to smell like a flower. Yes, I have used my wife's shampoo.). I don't know if my wife has ever paid list price for many products. I can't remember the last time I used a coupon.

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Maybe not, but I don't think anything in your summary rules it out.

Edit -- I take that back. My idea is clearly ruled out re shampoo, etc., since it's not sold per use.

But I suspect the correct explanation is "sexist", in the sense that it's a function of different gender preferences.

Women likely care more about appearance, so are willing to spend more on cosmetics. Men more often buy on price, not caring as much about appearance.

But if you look at average prices paid for hammers, screwdrivers, and power tools, I expect men pay more. For analogous reasons - men care more, while women buy on price.

On average of course (ducking).

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That is clearly not what is going on here.

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