Suppose you find out about a government program that was spending $80 billion per year, and suppose you found out that the $80 billion could have been achieved with $60 billion in spending. Would you be concerned as a taxpayer?
In 1993 Joel Waldfogel once wrote a paper titled The Deadweight Loss of Christmas, in which estimated that ill-chosen gifts caused between $4 billion and $13 billion a year in economic waste; for comparison, he cited an estimate that put economic costs of the income tax at $50 billion.
But how much does Christmas giving differ in traditionally Christian countries?
ING produce a range of yearly Christmas reports that produce analysis from survey’s they’ve commissioned.
It is important to note that the study only considers the countries explicitly listed.
How much do you plan on spending this year on Christmas presents? (2016)
|Rank||Country||Median spend (EUR)||Do not know (%)|
The UK spend the most, 420 EUR on presents, that’s 60 EUR more than second place, the USA, where the population spends a median average of 360 EUR on gifts.
Citizens in the Netherlands spend the least by far — just 40 EUR on Christmas Day gifts. It is worth noting though, countries hold Christmas-type celebrations at different times. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas on 5 and 6 December – the feast of St Nicholas – means less may be spent on 24 and 25 December than in other countries that focus on a single day.
Interestingly in all countries, between 30% and 50% of those surveyed has no idea how much they spent, which could mean spending being significantly higher than figures reported!
Potential wasted spending (2016)
|Country||Wasted money EUR (assuming loss 20%)|
Assuming Joel Waldfogel’s assumption of an average spend of about 20% being spent on unwanted gifts, UK citizens wasted 84 EUR on unwanted gifts in 2016.
Did you get into debt to fund Christmas celebrations? (2016)
|Rank||Country||Went into debt for Christmas %|
In the USA, around one-fifth of people spend Christmas in the red, while the people of the Netherlands are least likely to go into debt to finance the festivities (which is understandable given the reported spending).
The report found 40% of people say Christmas is the one time they spend money without worrying about it and also that a significant number of those polled feel forced to spend money.
What type of gifts did you receive for Christmas last year? (2016)
|Country||Practical gifts %||Leisure gifts %||Money %||Gift cards %||Luxurious or special gifts %||Didn’t receive any %||Can’t remember %|
Across Europe, 46% say they got practical gifts such as household items for Christmas last year. Twenty-six percent received presents related to hobbies or leisure.
Twenty-one percent in Europe say they received money presents in 2015; 16% received gift cards, while 14% got luxuries or other “special” items. More Czechs (70%) are practical gift givers.
Half in the Netherlands say they received no Christmas gifts last year. Potential reasons may include the Sinterklaas festival, marked in the Netherlands and in parts of Belgium earlier in December, as noted previously.
This post considers aggregated statistics from a study conducted by ING in 2016. It would be really interesting to consider spending intentions in subsequent year, especially this year, where COVID-19 is likely to have a significant negative impact on spending intentions.
UK citizens spend the most on Christmas gifts (420 EU) with Dutch citizens spending the least (40 EUR). In all countries, a significant number of gift givers actually having no idea what they spend.