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Pet Parents Are the Parents of the Future

A study found that millennials are choosing pets over kids. Here’s why.

by Nisha Gopalan
June 15, 2022
A woman kissing her dog on a couch.

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Here’s a statistic that should not surprise you: More than half of all American households have a dog. As we all know, COVID anxiety became the best marketing tool ever for animal adoptions. But there is an interesting twist here. As pet ownership has risen, human birthrates are on the decline, according to the CDC. In fact, they’re at the lowest rate since 1979. You know that single, cat-lady archetype? She may actually be a sign of the future.

When animal adoptions skyrocketed during the height of the pandemic, our team asked the question: Are pets standing in for children among the millennial population? explains Lily Velez, Head of Digital PR at Veterinarians.org, who also authored the report, As Birth Rates in US Plummet, Are Pets Standing in for Children? This was the impetus for our survey, and we were amazed to see that 70 percent of respondents did indeed view their dog/cat as their child.

To understand what this means, it helps to look at millennial women, in particular. First, some figures courtesy of the aforementioned report. Of the women surveyed who don’t plan on having children, 46 percent of them simply have no desire to raise them. Add to that political unrest, environmental concerns, and economic instability (psychic residue from 2008’s Great Recession) — and 42 percent have said that the pandemic impacted their resolve to not have kids. If anything, those women would much rather have pets.

Over the years, it’s been clear that millennials have bucked against many of the traditional milestones that have long stood as rites of passage’ into adulthood, such as purchasing a home or getting married, Velez says. In light of declining birth rates, parenthood was clearly becoming yet another milestone millennials were either delaying or foregoing altogether.

Enter the furbaby, or stress-free surrogates for kids. You can leave a pet alone. It’s easier to find daycare for them. They can be expensive, but are far less likely to rival the financial burden that children — and later, teens — create. You don’t have to uproot your social, romantic, or professional lives nearly as much to accommodate a pet. And as several studies show, pets can have a wonderful impact on your mental health. Adds Velez, Many women are deciding for themselves what a truly fulfilled life looks like for them, and sometimes, it simply doesn’t fit into the traditional’ mold.

But it’s not all selfish. The report also shows that owners are inclined to make concessions when it comes to accommodating their pet, from where they live (considering dog-friendly outdoor spaces, for instance) to taking out loans for canine/feline medical treatments. These are all deemed worthy investments.

While American ideals have typically defined a family as a household with children, Velez says, the truth is that family’ encompasses far more than that. Ultimately, it includes those with whom you share a loving bond: whether that be with a romantic partner, or yes, a wet-nosed, tail-wagging, four-legged friend.

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Nisha Gopalan

Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.