If you’re a dad who enjoys Father’s Day, you can thank a woman for it. Specifically, thanks should go to Sonora Smart Dodd, the woman who founded Father’s Day in the U.S. Dodd was born in 1882 and when she was just 16, her mother died giving birth to Dodd’s fifth sibling. After that, Dodd’s father, the civil war veteran William Jackson Smart, spent his final years raising his children alone.
Because of his efforts, Dodd revered her father, and after his passing, and upon hearing of Anna Jarvis’s efforts to get her invention–Mother’s Day–national holiday status in the early 1900s, Dodd felt there should also be a national holiday that honors fathers.
But while Jarvis would succeed in getting President Woodrow Wilson to proclaim Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914, Dodd’s efforts to get the U.S. to recognize Father’s Day as a national holiday would take almost her entire life. It wouldn’t happen until President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day a national holiday by signing a proclamation in 1972 when Dodd was 90 (she died at the age of 96).
Still, Dodd did succeed relatively early in her lifetime in getting Father’s Day recognized and celebrated in a number of areas around the country. Indeed, the first Father’s Day celebration, which Dodd is responsible for, took place on the third Sunday of June, on the 19th, in 1910 in Spokane, Washington. Yet despite existing in some form in the U.S. for 118 years now, and as a national holiday for 46 years, Father’s Day, from a business standpoint, still pales in comparison to Mother’s Day.
Related: 3 ways Mother’s Day got ruined
Dads get billions less in gifts
The National Retail Federation estimated that Mother’s Day 2018 spending would hit $23.1 billion with the average person spending $180 on mom. However, the NRF’s estimates for Father’s Day 2018 spending lags behind by billions. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $15.3 billion on dad this year, with the average person spending $133 on their fathers. Further, while 86% of Americans celebrate Mother’s Day, only 77% of Americans are expected to celebrate Father’s Day. So why the discrepancy? It’s a question I put to Adam Ferrier, a consumer psychologist and the author of The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behaviour.
Ferrier says that from the industry side of things, marketers have been terrible at getting behind Father’s Day. He notes that while all the big festive holidays that involve mass consumption (e.g., Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day) are supported in a large and focused way by marketers, they have been late to the party in terms of making a genuine celebration around Father’s Day–with the obvious exceptions of hardware and electronic stores and shaving supply companies.
This is all the more compounded by the gender dynamics surrounding the holiday in two key ways. The first is that men generally respond less well to symbolic gifts. “Think of stereotypical father’s gifts, and they are largely functional (e.g., power tools) whereas think of stereotypical mothers gift and they are largely symbolic (e.g., flowers),” Ferrier points out.
Ferrier notes that there is normally much higher margins and discretionary dollars available for emotional and symbolic gifts (you can’t have too many flowers) versus functional gifts (you only need one power drill). “Further, there is more emotion, and hence more margin to retailers embedded in emotional rather than functional gifts,” Ferrier says. “Hence it’s easier for retailers to get behind a holiday that requires symbolic gift giving like Mother’s Day, as the gifts they stereotypically like lend themselves to more consumption and greater margins.”
But fathers make up for it in our male-dominated society
But a greater issue in the higher importance people give to Mother’s Day than to Father’s Day might come down to a second point: Mothers generally need more recognition than dads. Men are typically still paid more for the same work, and society usually still places more responsibility on the woman for raising children and maintaining a household, despite the fact that that a woman might be working in a job just as hard and be just as skilled as her partner.
“Society is thankfully changing quickly, thanks to the #metoo movement and so on. However, historically, mothers were seen as the people who were not thanked enough for the work they did, and therefore needed a day of focus,” says Ferrier. “Father’s Day was always a bit of joke, giving recognition to someone who didn’t really deserve it. The man may have been fine at providing an income, but potentially neglected his ‘fatherly’ role.”
But the times are changing when it comes to family dynamics. “As roles in raising the family versus providing an income become less gendered, you can expect to see Father’s Day take on more prevalence as men start to take the nurturing side of their responsibilities more seriously,” says Ferrier.
And his assertion bears out if you look at the recent trend in Father’s Day spending. Back in 2009, Americans only spent $9.4 billion on Father’s Day. But in 2017, we spent a record high of $15.5 billion.
“Men’s roles in society are becoming less rigid, and we are thankfully starting to see men take their role as protector and nurturer of their families more seriously,” says Ferrier. “We’re starting to see the first green shoots of domestic work being split more evenly, and men taking a role in raising their children, and with these positive changes, men may deserve a day of celebration for their role as a father.”