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Gift-Giving Tops Holiday Stress List

Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

Traveling, being with family less stressful for older generation

West Long Branch, NJ – Americans are more likely to find the Yuletide season enjoyable rather than stressful, but finding the right gift produces at least a little bit of anxiety for most of us. That may be because nearly 4-in-10 put off most of their holiday shopping until the last ten days before Christmas. The Monmouth University Poll also finds that women and parents of children under age 18 are a little more anxious about the holidays than they were three years ago. Also, Americans under the age of 55 feel more stress from traveling and being with family members when compared to those age 55 and older.

Just over 4-in-10 (41%) Americans find the holiday season to be more enjoyable than the rest of the year while 29% say it is more stressful. Another 27% say the holidays are no different than any other time of the year and 3% volunteer that this time of year is both more enjoyable and more stressful. These national results are similar to a Monmouth poll taken in 2015 when 44% said the holidays were more enjoyable, 27% said they were more stressful, and 23% said they were no different than the rest of the year.

Men are more likely to say the holidays tend to be relatively enjoyable (43%) rather than stressful (24%), while women are more divided between feeling this time of year is more enjoyable (38%) or more stressful (35%). Similarly, adults under age 55 who have minor children at home are split between seeing the holidays as more enjoyable (41%) or more stressful (37%). Adults under age 55 without children at home are somewhat more likely to feel the holidays are comparatively enjoyable (39%) rather than stressful (30%). Americans age 55 and older are even more likely than younger adults to see the holidays as being more enjoyable (43%) rather than more stressful (23%) compared to the rest of the year.

This marks a change from the Monmouth poll taken three years ago, which did not find any substantial differences in views of the holidays by gender, age, or parental status.  The 2015 results for more enjoyable/stressful were 45%-24% men, 43%-30% women, 48%-29% parents under age 55, 43%-27% non-parents under age 55, and 43%-26% adults age 55 and older.

“The holidays produce a mixed bag of emotions and parents in particular seem to be feeling more stress now than a few years ago. Maybe it’s the anxiety of being able to find the right gift for each family member or it could simply be whether you can afford everything on your shopping list,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

When asked about five common sources of holiday stress, 28% choose finding the right gifts as the holiday task that produces the most anxiety. About 1-in-6 select either traveling (17%) or being with family members (16%) as their top cause of stress. The list is rounded out by holiday cooking (9%) and putting up holiday decorations (7%). It’s worth noting, though, that 15% of those surveyed volunteer that none of these holiday tasks cause them any stress.

Just over half of all Americans – 52% – say that finding the right gifts for people causes them either a lot (19%) or a little (33%) stress over the holidays. Adults under 55 with minor children (60%) are slightly more likely to feel at least some stress about gift buying when compared to adults under 55 who do not have children (54%). However, both of these groups are more likely to feel stress about gift-buying when compared with all adults age 55 and older (43%).

Nearly 4-in-10 Americans (38%) put off the bulk of their holiday shopping until the last ten days before Christmas. Another 32% do most of their shopping in the first two weeks of December, 17% try to get most of it finished up before the end of November and 2% report that they had already wrapped up most of that chore by mid-November when they were interviewed by the Monmouth poll. Another 6% say they do not shop at all for the holidays.

Men (42%) are slightly more likely than women (35%) to put off their holiday shopping until late in December, but parents (56%) are a lot more likely than non-parents (37%) under the age of 55 to leave their shopping until the last minute. Older adults age 55 and over (27%) are the least likely to put off their holiday shopping until mid-December.

“Older adults are smart to get their shopping done early since it is reflected in their lower levels of holiday stress. In many cases, though, their shopping chore consists of putting a few bucks in an envelope for the grandkids, so it’s not a heavy lift. And when you couple that with the fact that younger family members are the ones who are usually required to travel ‘over the river and through the woods’ you start to get a picture of why older Americans are generally less stressed out by the holidays,” said Murray.

Just over one-third of Americans say they get at least some stress from traveling over the holidays (36%, including 11% a lot and 25% a little) and being with family members (35%, including 11% a lot and 24% a little). Adults under age 55 (41% with kids and 45% without kids) are more likely to get at least a little stress from traveling than those age 55 and older (21%). Similarly, adults under age 55 (40% with kids and 44% without kids) get more stress from being with family members than those age 55 and older (23%).

Just over 1-in-4 Americans say they get at least some holiday stress from cooking (28%, including 9% a lot and 19% a little) and putting up decorations (28%, including 6% a lot and 22% a little). There are no significant age or parental status differences in these results, although women (34%) are somewhat more likely than men (22%) to feel at least some anxiety about cooking for the holidays.

During the month of December, most Americans (90%) report celebrating Christmas, 6% celebrate Hanukkah and 4% celebrate Kwanzaa. Just 7% do not celebrate any of these holidays.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from November 9 to 12, 2018 with 802 adults in the United States.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.


(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

[Q1-37 previously released.]

38. Do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or none of these holidays? [If YES: Which?] [Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted]

None of these7%8%4%
(VOL) Don’t know1%1%1%

39. Do you find the holiday season generally more enjoyable or more stressful than the rest of the year, or is it no different?

More enjoyable41%44%
More stressful29%27%
(VOL) Both3%5%
No different27%23%
(VOL) Don’t know0%0%

40. During the holiday season, how much stress does each of the following activities cause you – a lot, a little, or no stress at all? [READ ITEM] does that cause you a lot, a little, or no stress at all? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED]

Putting up holiday decorations

A lot6%
A little22%
No stress at all66%
(VOL) Don’t engage in that activity5%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

Finding the right gifts

A lot19%
A little33%
No stress at all45%
(VOL) Don’t engage in that activity3%
(VOL) Don’t know1%


A lot11%
A little25%
No stress at all55%
(VOL) Don’t engage in that activity9%
(VOL) Don’t know0%


A lot9%
A little19%
No stress at all67%
(VOL) Don’t engage in that activity5%
(VOL) Don’t know0%

Being with family members

A lot11%
A little24%
No stress at all63%
(VOL) Don’t engage in that activity1%
(VOL) Don’t know0%

41. And which of the things I just mentioned causes you the most stress during the holidays?

Putting up holiday decorations7%
Finding the right gifts28%
Being with family members16%
(VOL) Other2%
(VOL) None, no stress15%
(VOL) Don’t know6%

42. Will you get most of your holiday shopping done by the end of November, will you get most of it done by December 15, or will you get most of it done in the 10 days before Christmas?

By end of November17%
By December 1532%
In the 10 days before Christmas38%
(VOL) Already have most done2%
(VOL) After Christmas1%
(VOL) Do not shop for holidays6%
(VOL) Don’t know3%


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from November 9 to 12, 2018 with a national random sample of 802 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 398 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 404 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and SSI (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design).  Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

28% Republican
38% Independent
34% Democrat
49% Male
51% Female
31% 18-34
34% 35-54
36% 55+
64% White
12% Black
16% Hispanic
  8% Asian/Other
68% No degree
32% 4 year degree

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and results by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with crosstabs