Who Is Making the Decisions This Valentine's Day?

Are you planning to celebrate Valentine's Day this year? If so, could you and your significant other spare me a minute? I really need some answers.

Here's the problem. We recently ran a survey at the institute on what consumers are planning to do this Valentine's Day. We do this every year, and discover some pretty cool insights. However, this year, we stumbled across a very interesting data pattern and I am hoping you can help me make sense of it.

We asked a fairly simple question to people who said they were planning to make some purchases for their significant other this Valentine's Day: Who will be making most of the decisions regarding the gift(s), meal and activities for this Valentine's Day? We gave people three response options for this question: "I mainly decide," "My significant other mainly decides" and "We both decide together." About 450 people ended up answering the question (about half of our total sample) and the charts below show you the responses broken up by the decision (gift, meal and activity) and by the gender of the respondent.

Consider the responses for decisions about the gift. Most of the men (69 percent) and the women (52 percent) reported that they would be the ones to make the decision about the gift(s) that will be exchanged on Valentine's Day. Very few of the men (11 percent) indicated that their significant other would be making the decision or that the decision would be made jointly (19 percent). However, the women were about twice as likely than the men (41 percent) to report that the decision was a joint one. One explanation for this is that there are fairly clear norms about what gifts men should buy on Valentine's Day. If you stick to flowers and chocolates, you're likely to do just fine. However, the norms for what gifts women should buy for their significant other on Valentine's Day are a lot less clear. I've yet to come across an ad that tells me what I should buy for my husband on Valentine's Day. Should I go with flowers and chocolates, too? Consequently, it may be the case that women end up purchasing Valentine's Day gifts in consultation with their significant other much more often than men.

Let's move on to the other decisions -- meals and activities. Both of these decisions are different from the one about gifts because they are likely to be experiences that are shared with your significant other. Perhaps you'll be enjoying a home-cooked meal, or going out for a romantic evening. In either case, the experience is one that both you and your significant other will be enjoying (hopefully!) together. This is perhaps why the most popular response option among both the men and women was that these decisions would be made jointly. However, note that here as well, the women were much more likely to report that the decision would be made jointly (60 percent for meal and 70 percent for activities) than the men (46 percent and 57 percent for meal and activities respectively). This time, I'm not sure that norms about what to do can explain what's going on. Every couple has their unique preferences when it comes to shared meals and activities. So norms about what you should be doing would seem to be less important than your knowledge of what you and your partner like and wouldn't explain why women think the decision is a joint one more often than men.

Thus, there seems to be an overall tendency for women to believe that Valentine's Day decisions -- both the shared and non-shared ones -- are made jointly. In contrast, men seem to consistently believe that they are the decision-makers a little more often than women. I say believe because we only have data from one member of a couple, and it is difficult to determine whether this is actually the case or whether this is just the perception(s) of the individuals involved.

So, this is where you and your significant other come in. I need you both to tell me who will be making the decisions about gifts, meals, and activities for this Valentine's Day. Do you both agree about who is making the decisions? And if not, then who is really making the decisions? Let me know in the comments!

Have a question about consumer behavior that you'd like answered? Email us at gicr@georgetown.edu to submit your question.

The Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research receives funding from KPMG. However, research activities are determined by the interests of the Institute's researchers and trending topics.