There’s a reason why dogs have a reputation for being “man’s best friend.” Our history is littered with dogs whose loyalty, love and dedication to their human owners have earned them places in their human’s families and hearts. The companionship that a dog can provide is truly life-changing and special. However, in recent years, it seems a cultural shift has taken “man’s best friend” into a new category: baby replacement.
Not only are young couples less likely to marry in their 20s or become homeowners, studies now show they are less likely to have children. They are, however, leading in their rate of pet ownership. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that a decrease in the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 corresponds with an increase in the number of small dogs owned by young women in the US, business-news site Quartz reports.
In interviews conducted by the New York Post, many women expressed that they found dogs as a more manageable, hassle-free alternative to children. 44% of Millennials remaining unsure if they want to start their own family and prefer to live their lives child-free.
It’s true, having children is the most serious, life-changing and personal decision you will ever make. But it’s something that has no substitute.
The distinction between a “childless” couple who desire children but don’t have any, versus those who refer to themselves as “child-free” is an important one. The intentional lifestyle choice not to have children is a trend that is growing in popularity, and it seems that those living a “child-free” lifestyle are more inclined to use animals as an alternative fix for the maternal instinct to parent and nurture.
“I’d rather have a dog over a kid,” Sara Foster (age 30) told the New York Post. “It’s just less work and, honestly, I have more time to go out. You don’t have to get a babysitter.”
Mary Smith (age 25) was quick to explain to the New York Post why her French bulldog was a desirable alternative to “a screaming infant.” Although she did admit that her bulldog does “snore a lot,” Smith claims that “a dog is easier to transport than a child. It’s less final than having a child.”
“He even has his own Instagram!” Smith adds.
A $69 billion pet industry backs up the sentiments of pet owners like Sara and Mary, which has tripled in growth since 1996.
But it’s not just the idea of freedom and a hassle-free lifestyle that is deterring millennials from starting families. Personal finances have played a large role in this wave of young couples nervous to have children. The Great Recession hit Millennials right as they graduated and entered the workforce, causing them a lifetime of financial anxieties and student loan debt. The $12,880 to $14,970 reported yearly average of raising a child—not to mention the college bill yet to come—is a heavy burden for debt-ridden millennials to take on. Pets become a more attractive alternative to fill a material void.
So which is the stronger deterrent, personal finances or loss of freedom?
The truth is, it’s much more socially acceptable to drop your dog off at the kennel so you can jet off to that destination wedding or weekend music festival. Dogs won’t disrupt a night’s sleep or Friday night plans. Yet, dog walkers are less expensive than childcare. And they don’t require a college education.
The fur-baby-obsessed millennial generation really highlights a sad reality while also painting an unflattering picture of today’s twentysomethings. On one hand, they are reluctant (and responsibly so) to bring a child into the world when the struggle to get a decent-paying job, affordable housing and foot on the property ladder is so overwhelming. But they are also a generation accustomed to easy global travel, convenience and independence—and they’re reluctant to give that up as well.
It’s true, having children is the most serious, life-changing and personal decision you will ever make. But it’s something that has no substitute. A dog is a man’s best friend, a loyal companion, and, yes, to many, a true part of the family. But the reality is that a dog will never replace a child—so don’t use it as a tool to fulfill a void that it can’t.