How much does it cost to be a woman?

We talk a lot about the fact that women earn less than men. But we talk a lot less about the fact that it costs more to be a woman.

Let’s start, as we often do on this blog, by defining terms. In this post, I draw a distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ – ‘sex’ being a physical category, and ‘gender’ a social one.

Physical differences

Some of the costs of being a woman relate to physical sex. The cost of sanitary products is an unavoidable one for the vast majority of (although not all) biologically female people, for almost half of their lives – a cost that men can avoid. The average woman will spend several thousand on such products over her lifespan. According to the Huffington Post, the cost of having a period, with all of the associated issues is up to $18,171. (I’ve based the figures for this post on American averages, as a broader range of data is more easily available).

While these expenses are not insubstantial, the vast majority of the costs of being a woman relate to socially constructed gender. We are told that to be ‘feminine’ there are certain things one must do, be, look, smell, and feel like.

Social differences

Here in Japan, I’m often reminded of the differences in speech as well. Other languages and cultures, too, have expectations regarding ‘ladylike’ conduct and speech (such as avoiding ‘rough’ words). But Japanese has clear grammatical differences as well as differences in vocabulary.

Recently, when talking about money (a favourite topic of mine!) a friend reminded me to use the honorific ‘o‘ (お) in front of the word ‘kane‘ (金), ‘money’. So-called ‘women’s speech‘ is characterised in part by the use of more ‘polite’ language, of which ‘okane‘ is an example. In Japanese, many words can be made more polite through the addition of either ‘o‘ or ‘go‘ at the start. Men’s and women’s speech also differ in terms of personal pronouns. When a man might call himself ‘ore‘ (I), a woman might use ‘atashi‘ (I). And there are different sentence-final particles, and other differences.

To use the word ‘kane’ without adding an ‘o’ is not considered 女らしい (onnarashii or ‘feminine’). And of course, considerations of 女らしさ (onnarashisa or ‘femininity’) extend to appearances as well. Just today, a catalogue arrived at the home we’re staying at with the headline ‘女らしさに磨きをかける’ and the English ‘How to look feminine’.


One difference between social expectations of ‘femininity’ versus ‘masculinity’ is obvious in the case of makeup.

Women spend an average of $15,000 on cosmetics. According to designer Yves Saint Laurent, ‘The most beautiful makeup for a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy’. Disturbingly, there is even evidence to suggest that women who wear makeup are more likely to be tipped, and to be awarded prestigious jobs.

Given how much money it costs to maintain a made-up face, as well as the amount of time spent on doing so (some people spend literally several years of their life putting on makeup), perhaps there should be some form of compensation in it. Even if it is disappointing that people are rewarded based on looks rather than competence!

Hair care

Similarly, there are big differences when it comes to the cost of hair care.

Women are typically expected to have longer hair and more complicated hairstyles than men. This results in using more shampoo, styling products, and accessories. On average, women spend around $700 a year, although some women with ‘average’ hairstyles report spending more than $10,000 a year! (Which, for context, is more than the average global household income, and about what I spend total to keep myself fed, clothed and accommodated while traveling the world). Men use around half the number of products that women do.

And there’s little evidence that these products have real benefits in any case. As The Checkout points out, your hair is dead anyway.

Lesson: If you want to smell girly -or manly- simply buy the cheapest shampoo and opt for the conditioner of your choice.

Women’s hair cuts also cost more than men’s. Again, this is understandable if women have longer hair and more complex requests. But even when women have short hair, and want the same style cut as a man, they are typically charged more. And don’t even think about going into a barber’s to ask for a cheap cut. A sign I saw recently expressly forbade women entry (though how this is enforced, I dread to think!)

The cost of being a womanI’m acutely aware of the fact that I haven’t yet answered the question posed by this post. Bear with me! Over the next few posts, we’ll arrive at an answer of sorts, I promise!

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at another reason women often pay more than men…

Today’s featured image is of a catalogue that arrived at our friend’s house in Japan just as I was writing this post. It implores the reader to ‘polish’ their ‘femininity’ (by buying clothes and accessories of course!).

Do you think women pay more than men, or men pay more  than women, overall? In what areas have you noticed differences? Let me know in the comments!

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If you’re interested in traveling lighter, cheaper, and for longer, please check out my recent post on Beautiful Budget Life!

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