The science of Valentine’s Day

Researchers attracted to facts of love

It’s the one day of the year set aside for matters of the heart, but that hasn’t stopped psychologists, economists, social scientists and even cybersecurity specialists from taking a more intellectual approach to Valentine's Day.

In fact, an academic cottage industry appears to have arisen to study the economic, cultural and even political impacts of a day nominally devoted to love.

Feb. 14 has become a favorite day to take the temperature of the larger economy, with global sugar prices, chocolate sales and lingerie fashion trends all serving as proxies. One survey has found that the deep recession and a still-shaky job market haven’t stopped consumers from purchasing Valentine's Day merchandise for that special someone.

Total spending for the holiday is projected to reach $15.7 billion, a nearly 13 percent increase from 2010, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. In the poll of more than 8,000 consumers 18 and older, 59.8 percent of women and 56.4 percent of men said they planned to celebrate Valentine's Day.

“It seems consumers are not done spending on gifts, which bodes well for the economy,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

According to the NRF, the average American spent $103 on the holiday last year, but the 2011 survey projected per capita spending at $116.21.

While the tab is going up, the purchases remain largely the same - cards and candy.

Of those polled, 52.1 percent said they planned on giving greeting cards as gifts, while 47.5 percent would head for the candy aisles and 34.3 percent to local florists. By the time Cupid has shot his last arrow, the survey projected, consumers will have spent a total of $1.1 billion on cards, $1.5 billion on candy and $1.7 billion on flowers.

On another economic front, early February marks the equivalent of the biggest selling season for drug companies peddling Viagra and other sexual-performance pills. In the week before Valentine's Day last year, more prescriptions were written for Viagra’s little blue pill than any other week of the year, according to figures compiled by the firm Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions.

The worst time for sales: Thanksgiving week, when families tend to travel and gather in large groups.

On a more political angle, the Republican National Committee is looking to score points again this year with Valentine's Day e-cards poking fun at its rivals across the aisle.

This year’s series included an e-card with a picture of the Constitution with the message “Obamacare, I’m all broken up over you,” as well as one featuring Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that read “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Relationship specialists such as psychologist Diana Kirschner have spent time studying Valentine's Day’s have-nots, the singles and the unwillingly alone who will be bombarded by images of the culture’s ideals about love and togetherness in movies, magazines and offices.

“These cultural forces have created unrealistic expectations for what’s supposed to happen on this day,” Ms. Kirschner said in an interview for the American Psychological Association website. “Couples are portrayed as so much happier than singles.”

Ms. Kirschner suggested that singles get together with friends to throw a party, go out to dinner or attend a play.

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