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ASU business professor: Mother's Day is a moment in the sun for moms and consumerism

A child holds her hand over her mom's eyes while handing her a gift bag
May 11, 2023

Mother’s Day will be celebrated around the country on May 14, when moms will be honored and showered with gifts – perhaps flowers, cards, personal services, meals or jewelry.

According to the National Federation of Retailers, record spending will take place this year — more than $35 billion worth — $4 billion more than last year.

It’s the kind of spending that make economists like Lee McPheters stand up and take notice. McPheters, a research professor and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center in Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, often looks at spending trends and how consumers select their goods and services.

ASU News spoke to McPheters, to discuss the history of Mother’s Day and what are the go-to gifts this year.

Man in blue suit and tie smiling

Lee McPheters

Question: Most people don’t equate Mother’s Day with money, though it is an official holiday where many goods and services are purchased. Can you give us a brief history of Mother’s Day and how it got to this point?

Answer: We can trace celebrations of motherhood back to the Greeks and Romans, but here in the U.S., Mother’s Day was officially established as the second Sunday in May in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson. This came about thanks to a years-long campaign mounted by a woman named Anna Jarvis. She envisioned Mother’s Day as a special occasion for people to visit their mothers and perhaps attend church together. Still, once Mother’s Day became official, florists and card companies began to cash in, and now this year, we expect to see total spending of about $35 billion, more than Valentine’s Day. It is ironic that in later life, Anna Jarvis fought against commercialization, even to the point of legal suits against the use of the Mother’s Day name and lobbied to get the presidential recognition reversed.

Q: What types of goods and services are typically given on Mother’s Day?

A: According to consumer surveys, the celebration of Mother’s Day is prevalent, with about 85% of people recognizing their mothers in some way. The top “go-to” gifts are flowers and cards, followed by taking mom on an outing, perhaps to a restaurant. Merchandise items, such as clothing and jewelry, are frequent gifts, followed by housewares and electronics. If you look at the largest amount spent, jewelry is expected to be $8 billion, and $5.6 billion on outings. 

Q: What are some trends you are seeing?

A: Over the past decade, more people have been buying gift cards so moms can spend as they choose. The total gift card expenditures are projected at $3.4 billion, larger now than spending for flowers, which is $3.3 billion. Another upward trend is with spending on personal services, which would be something like a massage session or yoga classes. But overall, flowers, cards and going on an outing are the top spending choices.

Q: What is the most impressive statistic in your mind?

A: Total spending on Mother’s Day is projected to be $35.7 billion, up from $31.7 billion in 2022. So, the increase is 12.7%, a bigger rise than the inflation rate, which is 4.9% so far in this year. Economists would say there is real growth in recognizing motherhood, which is impressive in the current economy, where consumer surveys show weak confidence and high uncertainty.

Q: Are there any other interesting research findings on Mother’s Day?

A: Like many researchers, we have been experimenting with artificial intelligence, so we asked the AI bot to recommend some unique gifts for Mother’s Day. The first suggestion was jewelry with the unique element of a chain or locket with mom’s initials. The second suggestion was a spa day, with AI apparently picking up on the increase in spending on personal services in recent years. The third AI gift idea was a pleasant surprise: a memory book of photos, clippings and other items for reminiscence, which could be put together for little cost. It is quite possible that AI was channeling Anna Jarvis and her wish to de-commercialize Mother’s Day, with this great gift suggestion.

Top photo by iStock.

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