This Halloween, Americans are expected to spend a near-record amount of $8.8 billion on costumes and other decorations. While the holiday traditionally attracts a core of committed fans, many are also peer-pressured to jump into the festivity’s spending.
Ori Heffetz, professor of applied economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, is an expert on consumption and studies the psychological, social and cultural aspects of economic behavior. Heffetz says that when it comes to celebrations, Halloween has become the holiday to show off one’s status.
“From a consumer-economics point-of-view, Halloween is unique in at least two ways relative to other holidays. First, in addition to home decorations, which can be reused from year to year (say, like Christmas decorations), Halloween is much more about the costumes. Reusing decorations is relatively easy, but reusing costumes is more difficult, because our children grow fast, and because costumes are often less durable, and kids destroy them quickly.
“Second, wearables are among the most socially visible items a family could spend on. This unsurprising observation is confirmed and quantified in my research on expenditure visibility. This could make costumes a child’s membership card into some social circles, and the right costume can be an opportunity to display one’s status within a group.
“Even if we gave up on the costumes and stuck to decorations, while a family’s Christmas tree and many of the related decorations are only visible to those guests who are invited to visit inside the home, Halloween decorations are visible to anyone driving down the street.
“In short, in both decorations and costumes, Halloween is the expenditure-visibility holiday! For some parents this could be a not-to-be-missed opportunity for public display. Other parents may feel that they are reluctantly dragged into this race, or they risk disappointing their children.”
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