United states ranks 20th in holiday spending

December 23, 2011 By Bobbie Mixon
United states ranks 20th in holiday spending
Even though the U.S. economy has continued to grow, Americans spend less now on Christmas gifts and other items in December, as compared to the size of the economy, than at any time during the last 75 years. Credit: © 2011 Jupiter Images Corporation

Americans typically spend $70 billion more in December than in the average of November and January (the months around December). In a recent National Science Foundation-sponsored interview, Joel Waldfogel, the Carlson School's Frederick R. Kappel Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota uses that increase to measure the amount of holiday gift-giving. This level of spending is lower than in other countries. "We're about the 20th largest in terms of countries in the world," said Waldfogel, referencing how much U.S. December spending increases.

Waldfogel is the author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the . He notes that even though the U.S. has grown since the turn of the last century, the amount of U.S. spending in December (relative to November and January) has not kept pace with that growth. The extra spending in December is less as a percentage of than it has been at any time over the last 75 years.

He makes an additional point that the impact of this spending is even smaller if measured by the satisfaction it produces. The reason, he said, is simple: "The problem with gift giving is that somebody is going out and spending $100 on someone else and if the giver does not know exactly what the recipient wants, it is possible for the giver to spend $100 and buy something the recipient would only be willing to pay $50 or perhaps nothing for."

This type of gift giving, said Waldfogel, undermines economically efficient choices. "Whatever amount of spending occurs, it results in less satisfaction than could have occurred if people bought stuff for themselves," which, he claims, results in the loss of billions of dollars in value to the overall economy.

Explore further: The Thought Is What Counts

Related Stories

The Thought Is What Counts

December 22, 2009

Holiday gift givers who expect to be appreciated for choosing the most expensive gifts are likely to be disappointed when their presents are unwrapped. Cost has little impact on how much we value the gifts we receive, according ...

Record US holiday spending on gadgets: CEA

October 19, 2010

Americans will spend a record amount on consumer electronics this holiday season, devoting nearly a third of their gift budget to gadgets, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2011
Whatever amount of spending occurs, it results in less satisfaction than could have occurred if people bought stuff for themselves," which, he claims, results in the loss of billions of dollars in economic value to the overall economy.

I don't get this part. If someone spends 100$ on something then it's irrelevant (from an economy point of view) whether the recipient wants it or not.

Actually it should be BETTER for the economy if you buy stuff that the recipient hates, because that means he's not getting what he needs and then has to go out and buy it himself - resulting in further spending)

The disproprtionate increase in holiday spending could just be due to the fact that the distribution of wealth is not linear. The growing poor masses have nothing to spend and the super rich don't buy gifts proportional to their net worth.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2011
This article is nothing more than another shot fired in the war on christmas.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2011
how about a more apt observation. gifts are appreciated more when they aren't received at a time when they can be compared to other gifts.

in essence. we appreciate our blessings more when they are metered out further and fewer in between, than when they are all bunched up in one shot.

how's that for the psychology of why xmas gift giving sucks. how about we appreciate jesus christ and love for one's fellow man, rather than an obligation to buy things and gift them.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.