What can we learn from the younger generation’s Christmas spending?

  • December 22, 2016

What can we learn from the younger generation’s Christmas spending? by Bryan Melmed

The winter holidays are known as a time for families. But what about young adults without children, or new families without established holiday traditions?

We’re talking about the marketer’s favourite target audience, 18-30 year olds. As one would expect, this demographic have their own take on the holidays.

We pulled up data that Exponential collected in December 2015 describing the activities and interests of 18-30 year olds during the Christmas break.

After viewing the data through a few different lenses, we found that the family dynamic – specifically, whether these individuals are single or married — was the biggest differentiator for their holiday plans.

Most surprising was how easily this behaviour fit old stereotypes about gender roles. Wasn’t this demographic supposed to have moved past that by now?


Younger generations love to travel, and travel peaks during the holidays, so it’s no surprise that 18-30 year olds are all over this – in fact, they’re more likely to travel in December than any other demographic. While a few go upscale, the vast majority are likely to be in the budget travel category.

When it comes to heterosexual married couples, women are usually the ones making plans. (We even saw that they were the most likely to be checking the weather during the trip.) They prefer to book directly, being 23% less likely to consult a travel agent.

Those with children are interested in family-friendly destinations, such as Orlando and San Diego, but most families with children will travel less than 100 miles. Married couples without children favour Las Vegas and resorts in Mexico.

Single 18-30 year olds, as well as gay and lesbian couples, aren’t likely to hit the road – they are 27.7% less likely to rent a car during the holiday. Instead, these individuals take to the skies.

Australia is always a top pick for this demographic, and in December it serves as a destination for both leisure and family visits. Other popular vacation options include Spain, Thailand, and Brazil.

Gay and lesbian couples are especially interested in Cuba. Other single 18-30 year old’s struggle to choose a destination, which may help explain their interest in group tours with a cultural or educational theme.

A lot of singles break out their winter sports gear and head for the mountains. On the slopes you’ll find about a third more young singles than married ones, even after adjusting for population.

Gender plays an even larger role. Men are 41% more likely to exhibit an active interest in snowboarding and 49.8% more likely to be actively interested in skiing. It’s still hard to find any sport equally appealing to both sexes, and this is especially true in winter.

Of course, many of those who are single visit their parents for the holidays. Interestingly, single men are more likely to do this than single women – for those with Indian or Chinese heritage, more than twice as likely.

Even some married individual within this demographic will visit families overseas, on their own. We see high interest in off-season travel to northern Europe, especially Ireland, Finland, and Sweden. There is also a spike in travel to Asia, with Japan and Indonesia being especially popular relative to travel volume.


Younger generations are known to favour experiences over material things, and the trend continues during the holidays. They are more than twice as likely to purchase entertainment than other consumers – everything from music concerts to movie tickets to sporting events.

We even see a few single women pick up knitting, as hard as it may be to think of it as entertainment.

The major difference, this being the holidays, is that 18-30 year old’s spend even more on food. They are 64.4% more likely to be frequent restaurant goers, 77.2% more active on restaurant review sites, and proportionally spend more on eating out than any other group. As with travel, this demographic tend to go high or low but are rarely in-between.

Single men favor educational toys and Star Wars figurines. (Then again, they may be buying for themselves.)

They are 2.56 times more likely to visit an expensive restaurant, but 26.4% less likely to head to a casual chain. Fast casual restaurants such as Chipotle, Panera, and Five Guys continue to be staples, of course. Carbs are still out – even given their urban location, they are 22.1% less likely to eat pizza.


Interest in electronics spikes during the holidays. Even egalitarian individuals fit old stereotypes here — the category is dominated by single men and avoided by married women, with the former 77% more likely to be interested than the latter.

Last year headphones were generating a lot of buzz (no pun intended) and we expect the same in 2016, especially now that Apple has officially given up on the headphone jack. But while Apple generates more interest from younger generations than any other brand, it may show comparatively little benefit this December.

New MacBooks will be on offer, but the only laptops this demographic show interest in are lower priced Chromebooks. (This generation simply doesn’t consider computers when thinking about holiday gifts. Productivity software is the only thing that fared worse with younger people during the 2015 holidays.)

There’s no interest in the Apple Watch, either. The iPad, at least, is still coveted by married women – but other tablets barely register.

One surprise from 2015 was that there was sustained interest in gaming consoles, and all indications are that the same will be true in 2016. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are three years old now, but remain popular options as media centers in addition to gaming. Virtual reality glasses for the PlayStation may reinvigorate the category — although we know that with tech, heightened interest doesn’t always translate to actual sales.

Gift Buying

Children may be shocked to hear that presents are not a huge priority for 18-30 year old’s during the holidays. In many cases, gift giving seems like an afterthought.

If you look at consumers who spend the most in the last few days before Christmas, this generation are more than twice as likely to be there. Conversely they are less likely to be looking for deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, even though in general this demographic are 92.1% more likely to shop online.

Who is dashing through the snow on December 24th?  Single younger men. We found they are far less likely to be gift planning than their married counterparts.

Of the 94 shopping categories we considered for this article, just 11 had more single men than married men, and these were the most predictable gift categories – including perfume, chocolate, and inexpensive collectables (or tchotchkes, if you’re in New York). Single young women are the least likely to be shopping at last minute, and if so they rely on gift cards.

Women in this demographic often consider the holidays a time to splurge on themselves.

And why not? Singletons show heightened interest in boots, spa treatments, and cosmetics. And women who are half of a doubleton (yes, that’s a word) will buy themselves jewelry, fashion accessories, and hair treatments. Both sets agree that December is a great time to buy handbags.

The stereotypes continue when this generation wander into a children’s aisle. Women are 77.2% more likely than men to buy a Barbie doll, while men are 51% more likely to buy a train set. Single women are especially interested in doll houses.

Single men favor educational toys and Star Wars figurines. (Then again, they may be buying for themselves.)

Missing the trees for the forest

This data can be so neatly packaged that it seems like a gift in itself – a useful way to leverage generational differences to understand your consumers.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve aligned thousands of behaviours to fit an artificial concept that is about as reliable as horoscopes. As interesting as this angle can be, there are even more exceptions that prove fascinating.

In fact, the only stereotype of 18-30 year old’s that really holds true is that they are more varied and individualistic than any generation that has come before. And Generation Z looks to be even less predictable.

So fellow marketers… happy holidays? It’s a good time to enjoy what you have.