Pink Tax and Other Tropes
88 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2022 Last revised: 23 Jan 2023
Date Written: March 7, 2022
Law reform advocates should be strategic in deploying tax tropes. This Article examines five common tax phrases—the “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax”—and demonstrates that tax rhetoric is more likely to influence law when used to describe specific economic injustices resulting from actual government duties, as opposed to figurative “taxes” in the form of other real-life burdens or differences. Slogans referring to figurative taxes have descriptive force in both popular and academic literature as a shorthand for group-based disparities, but they have limited impact on law and human behavior. This Article catalogues and evaluates what makes for effective tax talk, in terms of impact on the law generally as well as day-to-day actions on the ground. With this roadmap, lawyers, policymakers and others will be able make more forceful and precise arguments aimed at reforming the law and changing human behavior.
This Article makes three principal claims—one descriptive, one empirical, and one normative. The Article first develops a taxonomy of tax phrases based on the object of critique. The classification distinguishes between criticisms of compulsory formal levies, on the one hand, and burdens or oppressions that are akin to taxes, on the other. The taxonomy also accounts for differences among tax tropes based on their linguistic form. Some phrases deploy a single-word modifier for “tax” (“nanny,” “death,” or “soda”) to signify a larger relationship, event, or transaction that is subject to taxation. Other phrases use a single-word modifier for “tax” (“Black” or “pink”) that is strongly associated with the persons subject to taxation.
The Article next engages in a content analysis of multiple datasets of printed popular and scholarly literature to compare the relative “success” of the phrases “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax,” as measured by frequency of use, links to legal reform, and impacts on taxpayer behavior. The resulting preliminary hypothesis is that tax tropes that deploy suggestive modifiers to describe literal taxes are more effective than those that allude to identity axes associated with figurative taxes.
Finally turning its focus to the highly variable “pink tax” trope in particular, the Article then recommends rethinking the use of that complex phrase. The “pink tax” is an overarching description of related manifestations of gender inequality: the gender wage gap, gender-based pricing differences in consumer goods or services, disproportionate expenses incurred by a large portion of the population for safe travel or to maintain stereotypically “feminine” appearances, and unequal time burdens experienced by those responsible for households or caregiving. Note at the outset that the majority of existing research in the field deploys a binary understanding of gender as cis male and cis female. In relying on that research, this Article builds a more nuanced account of the complex operation of discrimination on the basis of gender. Such discrimination limits all people, regardless of whether and how they do (or do not) fit within narrow categories. This Article builds to the argument that only one manifestation of the “pink tax,” as a description for the state sales tax on menstrual products, has been well-served by a tax shorthand phrase. “Tampon tax” talk has fueled litigation and advocacy efforts; it has led to law reform in at least eleven jurisdictions, with more states expected to follow. Indeed, generalized “pink tax” rhetoric describing figurative taxes likely will not, on its own, lead directly to legal change. For that reason, at least when arguing for law reform, gender equality advocates should not over-rely on “pink tax” talk or figurative tax tropes.
Keywords: pink tax, nanny tax, death tax, soda tax, Black tax, gender, taxation, equality, legislation, rhetoric
JEL Classification: K1, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation