Valentine’s Day: ‘Hallmark Holiday’ or Economic Boon?

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A Valentine’s Day card from over 100 years ago. The earliest known Valentine was sent almost 600 years ago. Photo Credit: Indech.

Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position — Christopher Marlowe

We all know love is a 365 day endeavor, as all successful marriages demonstrate. Flowers, candy and other simple gestures like tickets to the local monster truck rally are appreciated all year long. And yet, almost counter-intuitively, it becomes laser-focused on a single date on the calendar: February 14th.

Reported to have begun approximately 1,600 years ago, Valentine’s Day is somewhat surprisingly the second-biggest holiday in the United States as measured by dollars spent.

In the United States, the holiday has been celebrated since before the country declared independence from the British. The first Valentine’s greetings available for purchase were created in the 1840’s by Esther Howland, known as “the mother of the Valentine.” Today, over one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, second only to Christmas.

The Economic Impact of Valentine’s Day

The amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day is surprisingly large. The holiday is the second-largest overall in the United States, with $17.6 billion spent in 2012, up from just over $14 billion in 2010. Valentine’s Day spending is a reasonable barometer of consumer confidence, as spending fell during the Great Recession to just over $14 billion as recently as 2010, before rebounding sharply during the last two years.

Although dwarfed by Christmas spending, the average American still spent $126.03 per person in 2012, up from $116.21 in 2011. Men spend nearly double that of women; however, approximately 85% of the greeting cards purchased are by females.

In and of itself, Valentine’s Day represents a very small metric in the overall GDP, representing 1/10th of one percent of the overall economy. However, consider the following similarly-sized industries as a yardstick measurement for comparison:

  • The world-wide online search industry
  • India’s pharmaceutical industry
  • The video game industry
  • U.S. motorcycle industry

And consider the comparative timelines: one full year for the above four industries, a few days for Valentine’s Day purchases.

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