The Truth About Valentine’s Day
Our experts examine the state of this internationally recognized unofficial holiday, and the cultural and economic forces behind it.
On Tuesday, February 14, millions will take part in the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Originally started as a feast to honor the Roman Saint Valentine of Terni (given the records of the time, it is unclear whether St. Valentine was one individual or multiple saints with the same name), Valentine’s Day has morphed into a highly popular celebration of love and courtship. This month, our professors weigh in on the holiday's place in our contemporary society, as well as the undeniable economic and commercial implications that February 14 now holds.
Farrokh Hormozi, PhD
Professor, Economics, History, and Political Science
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences
Whether you consider February 14 a Hallmark creation or celebration of Saint Valentine of Rome, the economic impact of the day cannot be underestimated. In the past five years, additional consumer spending has ranged from $14 billion, in the US alone, to $18.6 billion in 2015, and $19.7 billion in 2016. The day has been celebrated as an expression of love and affection since the 14th century and in memory of Saint Valentine (Valentinus of Rome was persecuted in 269 AD, and was added to the calendar of Saints in 496 AD). Association of Saint Valentine to love and affection is interesting and somehow natural in historic terms. Apparently Valentine of Rome was a priest who was “imprisoned and martyred for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and to ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire” (Wikipedia). The day became associated with an expression of “love” in the 14th century and widespread in the 18th century onward. Since symbols of Saint Valentine always had flowers on its head, sending flowers as an expression of affection became normal.
Now on the economics of this ancient day. Contrary to the general belief that the day was manufactured by greeting card companies and the likes, the commercial aspect of the day is undeniable. According to National Retail Federation data, Americans alone spend billions of dollars every year on this day. Even though the great recession of 2007 had a dramatic impact on Valentine’s spending, the recovery seems eminent, falling from $133 per person in 2007 to $108 in 2010, and back to $131 in 2016, or 19.7 billion dollars in total (an estimate puts the figure for 2017 at over $20 billion). Considering that consumer spending drives 70% of economic growth as measured by GDP, the economic aspect of this joyful day is eminent.
Even though the average spending is impressive, it varied among different age groups, marital status, and gender. According to a Harvard study, single men spend twice as much on gifts and flowers than married men. Women are way behind in this respect. As single men spend, on average, $176, a single woman does not go further than $80; and worst, married women stay below $20. Further, and naturally, less expensive items occupy a larger portion of the total. According to more recent data from NRF, the top gift categories according to percent of participation and total amount spent are candy (50%, $26), greeting cards (48%, $18), evening out (38%, $87), flowers (36%, $40), and jewelry (20%, $166). The least favorite items are clothing and gift cards at about 15%. On the other hand, the beneficiary of these spendings are department stores at 35% of the shoppers, while jewelry stores capture only 11% of them. So is the impact of a single romantic day. See what you can do to make it more romantic.
Pamela J. Fuentes, PhD
Assistant Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences
Love Has to Be Reinvented
Statistics for Valentine’s Day reveal that people around the world spend millions of dollars on February 14. Candy, flowers, cards, jewelry, and dining out are the most common gifts exchanged. Around 53% of women that responded to the Consumer Intentions and Actions survey last year said they would end their relationship if they did not get something for Valentine’s Day; men buy up to 73% of the 198 million roses produced for that day; and an average of 11,000 children are conceived on Valentine’s Day.
The data reveals some social patterns we need to pay close attention to: men are in charge of buying flowers and jewelry. Women that do not receive any gift might not feel loved enough. Thousands of couples will get married or conceive babies as the highest expression of love (or passion). These dynamics are part of the social construction of romantic love: a heterosexual couple formed by a man and a woman, where he is the hunter, the one that has to prove the material means: the active lover. She will quietly wait for flowers, wine, jewelry, and would be devalued if her charmed prince did not make any move, or if the gift is not big, nice, or expensive enough. What he gives and what she receives signifies their importance in the relationship. If things go well, sex would be the prize, and babies (certainly a good percentage of them unplanned, even though the statistics are not clear about it) would represent the happy(?) ending for this story.
These numbers also reveal the lack of diversity in the common idea of romantic love. It seems there is not much room for queer valentines and LGBTQIA dynamics of courtship, even when they clearly exist. If more than 53% of the US population wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day, please do… just let’s take it out of the harness of preconceived ideas of romance. As the French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote in 1873: “Love has to be reinvented, that’s certain.”
Richard Shadick, PhD
Director, Counseling Center
Ah, Valentine’s Day—the time of year where the “haves”, “have-nots”, and “don’t-cares” bicker about how or if to celebrate romantic love. To say that Valentine’s Day is a recognized holiday for all is to step onto something akin to a battlefield (an irony that harkens back to the dark history of St. Valentine).
In order to address this issue we should look at some statistics. Approximately 44% of adults in the United States are single and of course the majority of college students are not in a committed relationship. Data from a survey at the Counseling Center at Pace University indicates only 30% of respondents are in a relationship. With so many without a traditional partner, is Valentine’s Day irrelevant for the majority of us? Well, one could argue that point, however that leaves a lot of messy feelings and no place to put them.
So, for those who care about Valentine’s Day, it makes sense that we re-vision the holiday as a holiday for love of all kinds. This allows us to spend time with anyone of our choosing. For this holiday, get together with friends, family, partners, or your pet and celebrate in some meaningful way. Have a party, go to dinner, see a movie, or treat yourself to something special.
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