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In Pricing, Women and Men Aren't Equal

Those who think gender discrimination is dead haven't been paying attention when they shop for toiletries, get a haircut or buy clothes since women are routinely charged more than men.

Paul Richard, executive director of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, said women often shell out double what men pay for dry cleaning, 30 to 40 percent more for cosmetics and toiletries and 50 to 100 percent more on health services.

"That really infuriates me," said consumer Cristina Barden of Long Island, N.Y., who saves by buying in bulk from Costco. "It's just taking advantage."

An increasing number of products — from deodorants and razors to oatmeal and health bars — are marketed to women. Though not all "feminine" merchandise costs more, it frequently comes with a higher price tag than its "masculine" counterpart, even though the only difference may be a powdery scent or pink packaging.

So why are manufacturers and retailers charging women more?

"Women buy the products, so they get away with it," said consumer Kristen Bloom of Baltimore.

Richard said cutting coupons can help level an uneven field. However, he added that women too easily fork over extra cash for products that are virtually identical to those for men.

"As long as women remain uninformed and apathetic and do not vigorously comparison-shop, they will be more susceptible to paying more," he said.

A spokesman from Procter and Gamble, which makes Secret — one of the first female deodorants with its "Strong enough for a man but made for a woman" slogan — said the company's suggested $3.99 retail price is the same for its two other deodorants, Old Spice and Sure.

"Secret is priced at the same level, depending on what line you're using," said spokesman, Brent Miller. "The retailer ultimately has the final say on what (price tag) they put on it."

Miller speculated that women buy female-marketed products because they like them better. "Women want products specifically made for them," he said. "They look for a product to serve as a reflection of their own personality."

He admitted the main difference between deodorants for men versus women is fragrance.

"The ingredients tend to be the same, but there are some variances, particularly in scent and the way it interacts with the body, that give it that feminine twist," Miller said.

A comparison-pricing trip to a Manhattan drugstore revealed that razors and shaving gels were priced the same for both genders. But the deodorant and soap aisles were another story.

Powdery and floral-scented 2.6-ounce Secret and Dove solid antiperspirants for women cost $3.27 and $3.39, respectively. A 2.3-ounce Lady Speed Stick solid costs $3.49.

Comparatively, 2.8-ounce Gillette and Right Guard solids — marketed to men — cost $2.99. And Speed Stick (displayed with the "manly" deodorants) costs $2.29 for 2 ounces and $3.19 for 3.

A package of two Dove "beauty bars" in petal-pink wrapping costs $2.69 to the $2.25 that three Coast bars in plain plastic go for.

"There is a lot of disparity," said Richard, who recently wrote about the male-female pricing phenomenon on the consumer advocacy Web site, www.icfe.info.

Foods like Luna bars and Quaker oatmeal for women, which claim to have added nutrients ladies need, have also jumped into the game — but generally without significant cost discrepancies.

"Foods are usually identical in price," Richard said.

Quaker instant oatmeal for women is $3.29 for an eight-pack, versus about $3 for a standard box.

"It's the added expense of the ingredients that go into it and being able to bring it to market," said Cathy Kapica, a senior scientist at Quaker Foods and Beverages. "I don't think there's a conscious effort to get women to pay more."

Bloom said she's noticed the price differences but feels helpless about getting around them.

"It will anger me but there's not much you can do," she said. "I just bitch a lot — and use coupons."

Since the most common form of overspending is paying too much for individual products, according to Richard, it's important for women to be smart about their purchases.

"In order to get greater value for their dollar, women have to become a little bit more attuned to spending issues," he said. "They need to become informed."