Valentine’s Day receives a mixed reception in Australia: 57% of Australians say it is not a day that they enjoy, and 25% of singles actively dread the occasion. Men are the main purchasers on Valentine’s Day, with 58% buying a card compared with 41% of women.

An estimated $791.4 million AUD[1]  is expected to be spent in 2014, with cards, clothing, and jewellery all standard gifts. Flowers are also a popular choice, with Valentine’s Day representing a massive 10% of the industry’s annual sales. Topping the expenditure list is travel:  Australians are expected to spend $441.6 million AUD[2]  in celebration of Valentine’s Day 2014.

The motivations behind gift-giving on Valentine’s Day are complex. A study into the motivation of Australian men who gave gifts on Valentine’s Day also found that giving and receiving gifts has implications for social power and status; luxury gifts in particular connote social power. The authors argue that the tendency of men to be gift givers and women to be gift receivers reflects the lesser social power of women.

Whilst the vast majority of men surveyed cited obligation and social expectation as their main reason for giving a Valentine’s gift, 25% of men gave a gift with the explicit expectation that they would receive something in return – usually implied to be sexual.  Altruistic motivations – i.e. voluntary gift giving not for the purpose of gain – did arise, but they tended to be intertwined with a sense of obligation and self-interest. Importantly, the person choosing the gift “is likely to consider the recipients’ needs and interests in the context of their own”; 89% of men who gave lingerie, for instance, said they would be thinking about themselves when they chose it. Moreover, the commercialised nature of the day means many people feel anxiety and pressure, rather than pleasure.

If it is true that 25% of men consciously expect something – often sex – in return for their gift, can we really regard those items as gifts? If most gifts are given out of a sense of obligation, what do they really express about the giver’s feelings towards the recipient? Perhaps it is not surprising that 44% of Australians see the day as marketing ploy, for it seems that businesses are the ones who really reap the benefits of Valentine’s Day in Australia.

[1] approximately £430 million

[2] approximately £240 million