I seem to remember most of kids in the local neighbourhood going out trick or treating when I were a lad: dressing up in naff home-made costumes and then marching up and down the houses with a tub of sloppy porridge for the hand of the occasional unfortunate who didn’t have some sweets to give us.
And then round someone’s house to sugar load and enthusiastically whinge about the idiots who gave us fruit or toothbrushes (yes, someone actually did that!)
However, I’ve had the intuitive feeling that the number of kids going out trick or treating has been declining in recent years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any data to support my intuition about what’s occurring during the spooky season here in the UK, but there is some data from our colony in America, and the data shows that trick or treating is declining rapidly!
According to some recent polls (details here) the number of Americans giving out candy during Halloween declined from 118 to 106 million in the years 2011-15, while the number of parents taking their kids out trick or treating declined from 52 to 48 million.
So how do we explain this decline in trick or treating?
There’s lots of possible sociological explanations…
This seems like the most obvious place to start…. Parents are more worried than ever about stranger danger and child safety, and letting your kids go out, at night, knocking on strangers’ doors probably seems risker today to most parents than it would have done in the 1970s.
This is certainly the view of Jack Porter, writing in the Utah Chronicle, who outlines how trick or treat has declined even his ‘safe, white Mormon neighbourhood’, because, according to comments on Facebook, people feel as if they can’t trust their neighbours. (Maybe their right when it comes to white U.S. Christian males?!?)
In the U.S. ‘Trunk or Treat’ events have emerged as an alternative to ‘trick or treat’ – basically vetted community events, often with activities, which children attend with their parents, and where they can go trick or treating from car to car, rather than house to house.
Maybe it’s commercialisation…?
While I’m pretty sold on the paranoid parenting/ culture of fear argument being one ‘causal factor’, I don’t think it’s the only one. Halloween has been getting more and more commercialised here in the UK for years, so I dread to think what it’s like in the U.S. Maybe trick or treating in the local community just doesn’t cut it any more… perhaps parents give their kids their Halloween fix by just buying them Halloween shit they don’t need.
It’s also probably privatisation and individualisation
We’ve become more socially fragmented over the last decades…. Local communities are less important as we go online to forge our networks, and thus each individual household in a street will spend less time engaging with other households in the same street. From this perspective, kids going around trick and treating is a bit odd, it breaks the privatised minimal local contact norm, so it’s simply less likely to happen!
Or maybe trick or treating isn’t really in decline?
The initial stats I used might not be valid indicators of the decline in trick or treating. It may be that kids are still going trick and treating, without their parents, and going to fewer houses: so perhaps the parental accompaniment ratio has gone down and the candy given per household ration has gone up per child trick or treater.
Unlikely, I know, but possible.
I say that trick or treating has declined, but it’s not quite Halloween yet. Who knows, maybe I’ll get inundated on Wednesday. I bought some ‘candy’ just in case!