Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mitch Miller & the Gang – "That's Where My Money Goes" (1958)

She wears silk underwear
I wear my last year’s pair
Say, boys, that’s where my money goes

According to a government study, men’s underwear costs 29% more than women’s underwear. 

That study, which was issued last December by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, says that finding is based on a comparison of “analogous” men’s and women’s underwear – meaning items that were similar in appearance, fabric type, construction and other factors.  

I’m not sure that a pair of men’s underwear is ever truly “analogous” to a pair of women’s underwear.

Analogous underwear?
We’re talking apples and oranges here, right?  (I might be able to come up with a more apt fruit-based phrase if I gave it a little thought, but it’s probably best that I stick with apples and oranges.)

Men’s underwear is pretty utilitarian compared to women’s underwear, and I would have expected it to be cheaper.  But the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (which we’ll call the “DCA” from here on) found otherwise.

The DCA’s finding may be the result of the stores they chose to shop at.   Most of the stores they visited – including Aeropostale, American Eagle, H&M, and Uniqlo – skew very young.  Also, the DCA shopped for underwear only at stores that sold both men’s and women’s underwear.  So they didn’t visit women’s-only stores like Victoria’s Secret, La Perla, or Journelle.  And they didn’t compare prices at high-end department stores like Nordstrom’s or Saks Fifth Avenue.  (I’m guessing the men’s underwear sold at Nordstrom’s and Saks is not 29% more expensive than the women’s underwear.)

The DCA’s study – which is titled From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumerwasn’t just about underwear (although it would have made much more interesting reading if it had been).  It compared the prices charged by New York City stores for almost 800 consumer products that are sold in male and female versions – clothing, personal care products (like deodorants and shampoos), children’s toys, and so on – and concluded that female consumers pay 7% more on average for products designed for and marketed to women than male consumers pay for equivalent products designed for and marketed to men.

The study’s authors started with mistaken premises and their methodology was faulty, so it’s no surprise that the study’s findings are highly suspect.  (I pity the fools – that is, the taxpayers of New York City – who had to foot the bill for this flawed study.)

For one thing, “The prices recorded for the study data were always the full price, regardless of any sale or discount the retailer offered.”  

So the study is really a comparison of list prices for male and female products – not a comparison of the actual prices paid by male and female consumers for those items.  (If you wanted to evaluate whether real estate prices were going up or down, would you use the sellers’ asking prices for their homes?  Or would you look at the actual sale prices the buyers agreed to pay?)  

According to the study, women pay 8% more on average than men for clothing generally (despite the fact that they pay 29% less for underwear).  But if we had data on the actual prices paid for clothing rather than the list price for those items, we might find out that women actually spend less money for clothing.  

For example, we know that retail stores put winter fashions on sale as the winter season wanes in order to make room for spring/summer items.  “The discounts are normally higher for women’s fashions than men’s,” according to one marketing textbook, “because men’s clothes span several winter seasons, whereas women’s fashions change more rapidly.”  

As a result, the list price for a woman’s winter coat may be higher than the list price for a man’s winter coat, but the store may discount the price of the woman’s coat more deeply at the end of the winter season in order to avoid getting stuck with unsold inventory.

Of course, I don’t know for a fact that the higher regular prices for female clothes is offset by the fact that women’s clothing is discounted more aggressively.  But neither does the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.  They’re assuming that the regular price for clothing is the actual price paid by consumers, and we know that is far from the truth.

The larger fallacy in the DCA’s finding that women pay more for clothes than men is that men’s and women’s clothing are apples and oranges.  (Yes, I realize that I’ve already used the old apples-and-oranges cliché in this post.)  Apples and oranges usually don’t cost exactly the same in the grocery store.  So why would you expect men’s and women’s dress shirts and sweaters – which differ in a number of large and small ways – to cost the same?

Having said that, I was taken somewhat aback when I read in the DCA report that Levi’s 501 CT jeans for women sold on the Levi’s website for $88, while the same jeans cost men only $78.  I realize that women’s jeans may be tailored somewhat differently than men’s, but it seemed odd that Levi’s would charge different prices for the male and female versions of the same style of jeans.

But it turns out that this DCA finding is quite misleading.

If you visit the Levi’s website, you’ll see that there are 18 different colors of men’s 501 CT jeans available, while there are 26 colors of women’s 501 CT jeans.  The DCA picked one of the male colors and one of the female colors — not the same color, by the way – and compared only the prices for those colors.

Men's 501 CT Levi's jeans
The regular prices of men’s 501 CT jeans vary greatly depending on which of the 18 colors you pick – the regular price may be $68, $69.50, $78, $79.50, $88, or $89.50. 

The regular prices of the women’s 501 CT jeans – which come in 26 different colors – may be $64, $88, $98, or even $148.

But forget the regular prices.  Most of the men’s and women’s 501 CT jeans are being offered at a discount.  You can pay anywhere from $28.90 to $58.90 for the men’s jeans that are on sale.  And you can pay anywhere from $9.90 to $119.90 for the women’s colors that are on sale.

With a little effort, you could come up with a weighted average price for men’s and women’s Levi’s.  You’d have to know how many pairs of each color were sold, then factor in the different prices for different colors.  That would require you to do some calculations, but it’s not rocket science.  

The DCA didn’t even try to come up with weighted data.  (The DCA doesn’t care that much about the truth, you see – they care more about advancing a certain political agenda.)  

The DCA also shopped for children’s clothing, finding that girls’ clothing items cost 4% more on average than comparable boys’ items.  But assuming that girls’ clothing actually costs more than boys’ clothing – which is questionable – does that mean that female consumers pay more than male consumers for children’s clothing?

Of course not.  That’s because children don’t buy clothes for themselves – their parents do. 

For the average traditional family, it doesn’t matter whether girls’ clothes cost more, boys’ clothes cost more, or girls’ and boys’ clothes cost the same.  For families with same numbers of girls and boys, any price differential is a wash — if you pay 4% more for your daughter’s clothes you pay 4% less for your son’s clothes.

Of course, some two-parent families have more girls than boys, while others have more boys than girls.  The parents with more girls pay a little more, and the parents with more boys pay a little less – but each such family has a mother and a father, so mothers don’t pay more for clothes than fathers.  In other words, there’s no gender tax for two-parent families.

What about single parents?  If single mothers as a group had more daughters than sons, and single fathers as a group had more sons than daughters, mothers would be spending more to clothe their children.  But single mothers don’t have more daughters than sons, and single fathers don’t have more sons than daughters.  Once again, the fact that girls’ clothing costs more (assuming that is a fact) doesn’t mean that female consumers spend more on children’s clothing than male consumers.

Maybe parents in the future are able to choose the gender of their babies.  And maybe lesbian couples will prefer girls generally, while gay male couples will prefer boys.  (I’ve seen nothing to suggest that is the case, but it’s possible – right?)  In that scenario, the “gender tax” would rear its ugly head – lesbian females would pay more to clothe their kids than gay males.

But why don’t we wait to cross that bridge until we come to it?

One final note.  I was surprised that the DCA study doesn't quote a single price from Walmart.  After all, Walmart is the world's largest retailer.

But there are no Walmarts in New York City.  That's because the mayor of NYC doesn't like Walmart, and doesn't want them in the Big Apple.  (He doesn't have a problem with Target or Kmart having stores in New York City – just Walmart.)

If the DCA really wanted to help New York City consumers, persuading the mayor to reverse his anti-Walmart stance would do more than a dozen flawed studies like From Cradle to Cane.

Fortunately for the many hardworking residents of New York City who can't afford to waste money, there are any number of Walmarts in the nearby 'burbs.  (According to one source, some 25% of New York City residents shop at suburban Walmarts.)

* * * * *

When I was a child, one of my favorite records was Sing Along With Mitch, which was released by Mitch Miller and the Gang in 1958.  “That’s Where My Money Goes” was part of a medley on side two of that album.

“That’s Where My Money Goes” is based on the old Tin Pan Alley song, “My Gal’s a Corker, She’s a New Yorker,” which was written by John Stromberg around 1895.  

Here’s the “I’ve Got Sixpence”/“I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”/“That’s Where My Money Goes” medley from Sing Along With Mitch:

Click below to buy the medley from Amazon.  (It's only 69 cents, boys and girls – what a bargain!)

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