Is gender-based pricing fair? Some businesses charge men and women different prices for the same service

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Date: Nov. 5, 2012
From: New York Times Upfront(Vol. 145, Issue 4)
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 564 words
Lexile Measure: 1090L

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There are some things it's best for government not to get involved in. Meddling in how businesses set their prices is a perfect example.

Sometimes it's completely fair to charge men and women different prices. Those who oppose gender-based pricing will say we all have a "basic civil right" to pay the same thing for the same service. The problem is it's not the same service. Giving a man a buzz cut takes a lot less time than cutting layers into a woman's hair. Cleaning a man's business shirt is a lot easier than laundering a woman's blouse with ruffles or delicate buttons. The differences are built into the prices: It makes sense to charge the women more.

Of course, there are times when it makes sense to charge men more. Nail salons often set prices higher for a man's manicure because their nails tend to be dirtier and require more work. Or consider car insurance. It's more expensive for a teenage boy to get car insurance than it is for a teenage girl. That's not because insurance companies discriminate against young men; it's because they know from experience that young men are more likely to get into accidents and cost them more money.

This is how the free market works: Businesses are free to charge whatever price they think the market will bear for their goods or their services. Consumers, in turn, are free to decide whether to accept those prices or take their business elsewhere.

The bottom line is that it's a bad idea to substitute a consumer's common sense with needless government oversight.

--MIKE DURANT, NEW YORK STATE DIRECTOR National Federation of Independent Business


Since 1998, it's been illegal in New York City to charge different prices to men and women for the same service. In the past few years, the city's Department of Consumer Affairs has written more than a thousand tickets for violations by hair and nail salons and dry cleaners.

While businesses are free to set their own prices and conditions, we as a society do not allow them to set those prices in a discriminatory way. A store could not legally (or ethically) charge one price to a person of one race, for example, and another to a person of a different race. Charging different prices to people of different sexes is no different.

I'm proud that we defend these principles and enforce the city's law prohibiting businesses from posting different prices for men and women. This is a very basic consumer-protection law, and it's also a very basic civil rights law.

Businesses cannot discriminate in their pricing structures, but they can certainly differentiate. There are legitimate reasons why a salon might charge different prices for certain types of haircuts. It could charge more to cut long hair than short hair, for example, but it shouldn't matter whether the customer is a man or a woman. And if a dry cleaner charges more for shirts with frills or delicate buttons because they require hand cleaning, then that's fine. But it shouldn't matter whether the shirt belongs to a man or a woman.

If businesses want to charge different prices, they need to have legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the differences. Chromosomes are not reasons.

--JONATHAN MINTZ, COMMISSIONER New York City Department of Consumer Affairs


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.

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