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Are Millennials Really Choosing Pets Over Kids?

A new batch of headlines has declared that the generation would rather be pet parents than actual parents—but how true is it? 

Hey guys, have you heard!? Millennials have all decided that they would rather have pets than kids! Or at least that’s what the latest batch of “these crazy Millennials” headlines have announced about the generation. This week, The Washington Post said Millennials Are Picking Pets Over People, TheBlaze declared ‘Pets Are Becoming a Replacement for Children’: Millennials More Likely to Own Pets, Less Likely to Have Kids, and at the end of August, Forbes asked Why Are So Many Millennials Opting For Pets, Not Parenthood? It’s certainly a fun, grabby story to tell, but how accurate is the idea that this generation is opting to be parents to pets instead of parents to kids? We happen to have some data on Millennials and pets that adds some clarity.

But let’s start with the story currently making the media rounds: According to a recent survey by Mintel, a reported “three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have dogs, while 51% have cats.” That’s compared to 50% of the overall population who owns a dog, and 35% who owns a cat, making Millennials the most populous pet owner population at a time when they’ve notoriously held back on parenthood. With that research as a foundation, psychology professor and Generation Me author Jean Twenge told The Washington Post, “Pets are becoming a replacement for children. They’re less expensive. You can get one even if you’re not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship.” While it may be true that Millennials are crazy about pets, and that pets are easier and cheaper than having kids, it’s a murkier step to the conclusion that their pet ownership is a “replacement for children.” Yes, they are delaying major adult milestones, including parenthood, but does that mean that their pet ownership is directly related? Not necessarily. In fact, when we asked Millennials why they own pets, delaying real parenthood was not a driving factor.

Ypulse’s research found that over half of 18-32-year-olds who lived on their own in 2015 (meaning not at home, with their parent(s), guardian, or other relatives) owned a pet: 

When looking at independent 18-32-year-olds, 54% report having a pet, and dogs are the most popular. Actually, we found that females of this group are actually more likely to report having a dog than males. Looking at those 30-somethings that are focused on in the Mintel reporting, 64% say they have a pet, and 44% say that pet is a dog. But we also asked these Millennials why they have a pet, and included choices related to delaying parenthood. Here’s what we found: 

The number one reason that Millennial pet owners say they have one is because they grew up with a pet, followed by their desire to have something to love and care for. Meanwhile, less that 10% of 18-32-year-old pet parents, and only 1% of 30-32-year-old pet parents, say they have one because they aren’t ready to have kids yet, and only 3% say it’s because they don’t want to have kids. So while it’s a catchy headline, the reality behind Millennials’ pet ownership is a bit different.

But we aren’t discounting the spending (and spoiling) they’re doing on their furry family members: 25% of 18-33-year-olds report spending on pet care products / services monthly, a number that increases to 42% when looking at 30-33-year-olds. Even more telling, when we asked Millennials who they bought presents for last holiday season, 23% of 18-33-year-olds told us they purchased a gift for their pet. 

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.