What the economy and gender tell us about holiday tipping

Holiday tip
SK Howard | Getty Images

December brings the annual ritual of panicking about holiday tipping—doormen, babysitters, housekeepers, dog walkers, deliverymen, barbers, handymen, and the list goes on. Who gets what? Who gets snubbed? There are plenty of guides with suggestions on who, and how much, to tip.

But what's the data say on what people actually do?

According to a survey of 1,300 people released last week by care.com, only 69 percent give holiday tips at all. Of those who do tip, 42 percent will do so without a budget—something they may regret when they do eventually get around to checking their bank balances.

Why don't some people tip? About 10 percent say they simply forget. But the bulk of non-tippers simply decided against it with most saying they don't think it's necessary (35 percent) or just can't afford it (28 percent).

Gender also plays a role in how much people tip—and how they feel if they don't. About 52 percent of men said they will spend more than $150 in total, according to the survey, compared with 44 percent of women. Yet women were more likely to feel guilty than men about skipping the tip altogether (54 percent versus 39 percent). Given that, it may not be much of a surprise that 15 percent of respondents said they argue with their partner about tipping.

Tiffany Smith, a senior associate editor at care.com gave a breakdown for how much people will spend:

How much people plan to tip

Percentage of People
How much they'll tip
11% over $400
17% over $300
25% over $250
45% over $150
14% under $50

Early December is the prime time to start handing out tips—about 41 percent say they distribute tips in early December. Most people (around 79 percent) will hand out tips during the month of December, with a few type-A early birds giving tips in November and some stragglers handing them out after the holidays are over.

When people plan to tip

Percentage of People
When they'll tip
4% before Thanksgiving
5% at end of November
41% early December
38% end of December
2% after New Year
10% other times of year

The economy is also playing a big role in how people tip. Rising stock market and employment levels have encouraged more generosity this year. One in four said they plan on spending more on tips this year compared with 2013—nearly triple the the amount of people (8 percent) who plan on reducing their tips this year.

It may feel like we're being asked to tip a lot more today than in the past. But today's tip levels aren't that different from those a century ago, at least in New York. The data crunchers at AddressReport.com listed New York City tipping scales from 1912, and showed what they would be in inflation-adjusted dollars.

NYC holiday tips in 1912 and 2012 dollar equivalents

job
A Century Ago
Today
superintendent (uptown) $5.00 $115
superintendent (downtown) $3.00 $69
maid $3.00 $69
elevator boy (uptown) $2.00 $46
elevator boy (downtown) $1.00 $23
grocer boy $1.00 $23
milkman $1.00 $23
postman $1.00 $23
barber $0.50 $12
messenger boy $0.25 $6

The milkman may not be knocking on your door anymore, but there's a whole new set of folks who will be looking for your generosity in the next few weeks. At least from 69 percent of you.