After seeing an article eight years ago that showed tariffs on women's clothing were generally higher than for men's apparel, Lori Taylor thought it was something worth talking about.
The professor at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M conducted research recently that showed the U.S. tariff on women's imported clothing is on average 25 percent higher than the tariff on men's imported clothing -- the result of which she said is directly detrimental to female consumers.
While Taylor said she couldn't claim the U.S. tax code is deliberately discriminatory, she said it still has a discriminatory effect on consumers.
In a policy brief for the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy, Taylor wrote that differential taxation of apparel based on gender cannot be defended and called for the inherent gender bias in U.S. tax code to be eliminated.
"Tax policy shouldn't discriminate," she said. "U.S. consumers bear the burden of this tax policy."
There are several factors that come into play when determining tariff rates. Materials used in an article of clothing, what country the material came from and where the clothing was assembled can all influence the tariff rate. Taylor said sometimes tariff rates can be an artifact of a policy decision made so long ago, nobody remembers who made it.
Taylor's research showed differences in tariff rates based on the sex of the buyer for clothing items such as suits, jackets, leather shoes and silk shirts.
Based on what she found while looking through the Harmonized Tariff System, sometimes the tariffs on men's clothing were higher than women's, but most of the time it was the tariff on women's goods that were higher. She said there is no obvious, underlying pattern to explain the differentials for gender-classified items.
She said it didn't matter what the reasons were, but that differential taxation based on the sex of the consumer is not good public policy.
Taylor said the easiest way to rectify the issue is for Congress to pass a law allowing for importers to choose the male or female tariff rate -- whichever was lower.
That kind of change might hurt the apparel manufacturing industry, but she said it would help the retail industry, as well as result in substantial savings for the U.S. consumer, a more equitable tax code and a reduction in the "pink tax" -- or the term given to the extra amount of money women are charged for certain products or services.
"I don't know if there's any traction on Capitol Hill, because people don't seem to be aware of the differences," Taylor said. "It will require Congressional action. I doubt this kind of change could be an initiative from the existing bureaucracy."