Even on eBay, Women Earn Less Than Men

A woman makes 80 cents to a man’s dollar when selling new, identical products, a new study finds.

Image Bennett Raglin/AP Images for eBay
Bennett Raglin/AP Images for eBay

In the U.S., women pay more than men in a staggering array of transactions: at the mechanic, the drugstore, the dry cleaners, the hair salon, clothing stores—even when shopping for health insurance.

Now, a new study published in Science Advances shows the gender gap in the product market also works in reverse: When selling identical, brand-new products on eBay, women make about 80 cents for every dollar that men earn.

The study’s authors analyzed a dataset containing all eBay auction transactions of the most popular products by private sellers in the U.S. between 2009 and 2012. The data included the gender (though not the identity) of the sellers. To focus solely on how the gender of sellers affected end-of-auction prices, the researchers kept the definitions of the products extremely narrow—focusing on “second generation blue iPod shuffle,” or “Bulova 18K Gold 95G07 wrist watch for women,” for example. This allowed them to control for the quality and subjective appeal of the products themselves. They also controlled for the experience level and reputations of the sellers, as well as the visuals and emotive language that sellers used in their ads (for example, whether the words used to describe the products were more or less positive or negative).

For new, identical products, the gap in sales was substantial: Women received about 80 percent of what men did. In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found the same kinds of results: Subjects were willing to pay about 6.8 percent more for a $100 gift card when it was sold by a man compared the same card sold by a woman. And this was true for both male and female buyers; In other words, women and men paid lower prices to women.

(Science Advances)

“People always think about others as women or men, Tamar Kricheli-Katz, a legal scholar and sociologist at Tel Aviv University and co-author of the paper, tells CityLab. “Once they do, labels about value are evoked, and those affect how people evaluate a product or that work that others are doing.”

Indeed, Kricheli-Katz and co-author Tali Regev, an economist at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, found that the gender sales gap wasn’t the same for all types of products. For things like toys, dolls, and pet supplies, female sellers actually made more on the dollar than their male counterparts. And when it came to used products, women still earned less than men, but only by a very small margin. The authors say they are planning to follow up with more research into why certain product categories led to different sales outcomes.  

Still, their central finding adds to a mountain of evidence that the products of women’s work are not valued equally to men’s. In the labor market, women earn substantially less than men, occupational gender segregation is common, and women are less likely than men to hold high-powered, high-paying positions. There are many factors that explain these statistics, and gender discrimination remains among them.

About the Author

  • Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab. She writes about the environment, infrastructure, and cartography, among other topics.