Gender bias alive and well Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

February 12, 1993

DO women pay more for certain products and services than men? Are women exposed to more marketplace hazards than men? The answer to both questions is yes.

Many a woman has a story about how an auto repair or home repair firm took advantage of feminine stereotypes and tried to gouge her. Even more women probably never knew of this gender-based fraud; they just paid.

Driven by exploitative images of female flightiness, insecurity and emotionalism, too many repair shops, financial and legal agencies are defrauding women. Other sellers in the medical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic businesses harm women's health.

Stories of women who have been so bilked or harmed, as in the case of silicon-gel breast implants or the overprescribing of tranquilizers, make good television features. But they rarely have policy impacts because there is little aggregate data.

Now, some studies are being done in a more systematic way. Recently, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs made 50 undercover visits to used-car lots. Female testers were quoted higher prices for cars 42 percent of the time. In cases where female testers were quoted higher prices, the sum was an average of $396.67 more than men were quoted for the same car.

In 22 percent of cases where male testers were quoted higher prices, their additional charge averaged only $183.18.

A careful study in 1990 of 200 Chicago car showrooms found that for the same model car with exactly the same options, a white woman paid on average $142 more than a white man, and a black man paid about $421 more. Black women got the worst deal of all, paying almost $875 more, or triple the mark-up paid by white men.

Women's clothing, with less material than men's -- blouses, for example -- is more expensive. Women's garments cost more to dry-clean than men's. Alterations cost more for new clothes purchased by women. Women's apparel is often more poorly made than men's. Pantyhose are manufactured to fall apart quickly.

Women's shoes cost more and often are painful to wear and harmful to the posture.

Because a largely male-dominated medical profession has been inclined to view women's problems as more psychological and men's as physiological, mood-altering drugs are more often prescribed for women.

A large number of unnecessary hysterectomies and Caesarean sections have prompted medical journal articles denouncing these reckless practices which, coincidentally, generate higher fees for the doctors. In two decades (1970 to 1989), Caesarean births have grown from 5.5 percent to 23.8 percent nationally.

The same New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has published a report on how divorce lawyers rip off women.

C7 In short, gender bias in America is alive and well.

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