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Here’s When You Should Stop Trick-Or-Treating

Tomorrow is Halloween, when suburbia experiences an annual bacchanal of egging, teepeeing and vandalizing. Also, a bunch of trick-or-treating. Just like showing up to parties or dancing at weddings, trick-or-treating is imbued with a whole bunch of unwritten rules and social expectations. How old is too old to do it? What time should you be asking strangers for candy? Is chaperoning necessary? And when you egg a house, do you have an ethical obligation to opt for cage-free eggs? To get to the bottom of most of those questions, I went to my friends at SurveyMonkey Audience, and they conducted a poll of 1,026 respondents to ask about Halloween festivities.

About 10 percent of respondents said they didn’t observe Halloween, which was very cool to see because that’s consistent with existing national data on the percentage of people who skip the holiday because of religious convictions. After dropping that particular batch out of the survey, we had 921 respondents.

Among Halloween-observing people, about 1 in 3 had someone in their household trick-or-treating this year. But there wasn’t a consensus about at what age people should stop trick-or-treating; the general sense appears to be the “teens.” About 57 percent of respondents picked an age between 12 and 15 as the age that kids are too old to trick-or-treat.

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On the other hand! How respondents answered that question tracks closely with what age they stopped trick-or-treating, at least among the 868 respondents who had gone trick-or-treating as a kid.1

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On the other side of this trick-or-treating social contract, 58 percent of people reported they were giving out candy this year, compared with 42 percent of people who I guess just want their house egged or teepeed.

But there’s an interesting pattern in who gives out candy. We asked people to describe where they lived — rural, suburban or urban area — and this had a huge effect on whether they planned to give out candy this year. Among rural folks, who presumably live far from their neighbors, 46 percent said they were giving out candy. For urban respondents, 52 percent said they were.2 But out in the suburbs, a decisive 68 percent of people were planning to give out sweets. This makes sense, given that trick-or-treating was basically designed with the suburbs in mind.

So, if you’re going back-and-forth over whether to give out candy this year, here’s some guidance: Essentially, if you’re in a rural area, you’re probably fine skipping it; if you’re in a city, there’s a 50-50 chance your neighbors are; and out in the burbs, it’s kind of expected.

So when should you expect the kids to hit the block? Going by the pluralities here, it would be best to plan for a rush from 6 to 8 p.m.

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So what are people going as? Er, ask Google’s Frightgeist tool — it has better data on that then we do. We obviously asked about costumes, but the responses were a bit too messy to draw a definitive conclusion. All I can say, anecdotally, is that there are going to be a lot of minions, stormtroopers, and Princess Elsas.

However: Attempting to clean the responses — I asked people to list the costumes and ages of their trick-or-treaters — made me realize how potentially amazing some of these Halloween costumes would appear as a group on someone’s doorstep. Here are some of my favorites:

  • A 12-year-old going as Moses with an 8-year-old minion. I can’t tell if the latter is referring to the “Minions” franchise or is merely referencing Aaron.
  • A 9-year-old going as an “anime character.” I don’t know which character this is referencing, but I imagine the kid has been very clear on the subs vs. dubs debate and the parents are having none of it.
  • Ash from Pokemon, a mermaid, Elsa, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I don’t suppose the last kid got the memo saying that the group was going as people who won in the end.
  • “Pirate and zombie hunter,” an agrammatical turn of phrase that has driven me to madness with its possibilities. Is this a hunter of zombies and his pirate friend or a hunter who became a zombie and his pirate friend? Or is it a hunter who hunts both pirates and zombies? Respondent 852, please get in touch — I’m going insane.

Be safe out there, kids. But most important of all: Remember that you are faster than most small-town cops, permanent records were made up by your mom to scare you into behaving, getting in trouble is not a real thing, and most misdemeanors can be expunged once you’re 18.

Footnotes

  1. And whether or not you believe there’s some “back in my day, we had to trick-or-treat uphill both ways, and Ma made us stop at age 9 so we could work at the mill!” grumpiness going on here, it’s a totally valid suggestion that people want kids’ fun to end when theirs did is — that’s all I’m saying.

  2. I assume the rest are a bunch of yuppies who give out kale chips or some bullshit like that.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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