Millennials have been accused of killing everything from American Cheese to Napkins to Beer, but this year they have taken it to the next level and have finally killed love. Don't sound the alarms quite yet though, because there's a silver lining to this.
Valentine's Day is being reinvented by the Millennial generation—the holiday is no longer about lovers, but about the “others” who generally go unnoticed—from co-workers to teachers to Galentines to pets to themselves.
According to Pinterest, people are keeping their work spouses in mind with searches for “coworker valentines day gifts” seeing a +4100% YOY increase. So don’t forget to gift the person that listens to you complain more than your actual spouse.
Etsy has caught onto this trend as well, giving recommendations to their sellers to “help shoppers re-imagine the holiday and make it their own, regardless of their relationship statuses” because, “people are getting increasingly creative with how they celebrate the day and devoting it to other passions, like female bonding, pet pampering, and treating themselves. The focus of the holiday is widening to encompass connections of all kinds, including platonic ones”.
The NRF reports that Millennials spend the most money on their pets out of any age group for this holiday. Who doesn’t like to spoil their furry friends? Additionally, interest in Galentine’s Day has more than doubled in the past five years thanks to Leslie Knope aka Amy Poehler. And just so you have it, I’ve compiled a gift guide for all of the “others”. You’re welcome. Here's a party for you and your gals at Paper Source, some trendy coworker gift ideas, an exclusive V-Day BarkBox and some ballin ways to treat yo self.
But why is this happening? Well first of all, Millennials do things their own way and have always been more contrarian than conformist. But, if you look at the data (are you surprised that I want to look at the data?!), it tells an interesting story.
Only half of the population is married, the lowest it has ever been. In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; in 2010 just 51% were married, according to Pew Research Center. The most drastic drop was seen with the 25-34 segment, cutting nearly in half.
So it would make sense that this group is doing V-Day differently. OpenTable reported that “reservations for parties of one has grown nationally by 62 percent, making them the fastest growing table party size”. Maybe one isn’t the loneliest number?
But what's really happening with marriage? Some have opted out and others are getting married later than ever before. As you can see from the U.S. Census Bureau's chart below, the median age of a woman getting married for the first time in the 1950s was around 20, and now the average age has hit an all time high of around 28 years old. And there are many reasons for this—from wanting financial stability to prioritizing careers to personal development.
While all of these are huge factors, could the rise of online dating also have contributed to this? In analyzing the chart below, meeting romantic partners online grew in lock step with the maturation of Millennials' dating lives.
Why does that matter? In our effort to make dating easier, we’ve created a paradox of choice.
Meaning, the more options you have, the harder it gets to decide and the less happy you will be, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz. Too many options creates an analysis paralysis (or in this case thumb paralysis), and a whole new set of problems for finding a partner. Additionally, online dating has created an unneeded extra mountain of "work" that Millennials don't have time for, from screening to responding to vetting to meeting and then starting all over again. This is arguably most pronounced with the Millennial generation due to their rapid adoption of online dating, which nearly tripled in just a two year window.
However, others would argue that the online dating paradox of choice isn’t so drastic: according to Eli Finkel, a psych professor at Northwestern, “Research has shown that people who find a partner they’re really into quickly become less interested in alternatives”. In other words, “Even if the grass is greener elsewhere, happy gardeners may not notice”. Similarly, anthropologist Helen Fisher believes that “dating apps haven’t changed happy relationships much—but she does think they’ve lowered the threshold of when to leave an unhappy one”. It’s much less of a hassle to swipe right than to take a shower, go to a bar and strike up a conversation with someone.
What other interesting nuggets of information has online dating revealed about society? If you happened to read my previous “Dinner Party Fodder” book reco, Dataclysm, you would have learned how trusting online daters are of the algorithm. Rudder details an experiment they performed on OKCupid members to uncover how influenced they were by the match rate given to them. He said, “To test this, we took pairs of bad matches . . . and told them they were exceptionally good for each other”. The result? Message rates were nearly as high as people who actually were good matches. Rudder wrote, “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other”.
All in all, the jury is still out to see if online dating has contributed to relationship success or stalling. Some studies show that couples who met online versus in person are more compatible and last longer, but they can't fully prove this yet because it doesn't account for many factors like self selection. Ultimately, dating is still dating—so whether you meet online or IRL, you will still have your fair share of delight and disappointment, just maybe in different ways.
The silver lining? Divorce rates have declined, which has been attributed to the Millennial population. Perhaps playing the online dating numbers game and waiting longer to get married is actually paying off.
What does this all mean? Millennials killed Love and then resurrected it in an entirely new way. Their experience of Love is drastically different than their older counterparts—from how they celebrate V-Day to how they date and when they marry. As a marketer, don’t rest on your laurels of stereotypes when brainstorming ways to activate for this holiday, or how you think about today's "American couple". And if you're looking for love, may the odds be ever in your favor.