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Millennials and Pets: Exploring the Close Relationship

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

labradoodle dog and woman owner at the park

If you were paying attention to the news last year, you might have spotted a headline declaring that the Pope had stated, “people who choose to have pets over children are selfish.” While he didn’t come out and say he was talking about millennials, many of this generation seemed to take the Pope’s words as a personal attack. But why exactly is that?

In this article, we’ll explore the close relationship between millennials and pets, including whether the generation is indeed choosing pets over human children. We’ll also look at how millennials with pets are shaping the future of the global pet industry with their spending habits.

Are Millennials Avoiding Having Kids?

One can debate the Pope’s characterization of those choosing pets over kids, but the truth is that millennials are putting off having children later than previous generations.

According to Pew Research, millennials are currently the largest living generation. Only 3 in 10 millennials live with a spouse and child, compared to 40% of Gen X and 46% of Baby Boomers at the same age. Millennial women are waiting longer to have children, and all millennials are delaying marriage further compared to previous generations.

Based on a combination of economic factors, including student loan debt, stalled wages, and cost of living increases, millennials are also the first generation who are worse off than their parents. The fact helps explain why millennials delay the life steps previously used to define success: home ownership, marriage, and having kids.

Are Millennials Choosing Pets Over Kids?

white cat with the owner
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Even as millennials are putting off having kids, they recently overtook the Baby Boomers as the generation that owns the most pets.

A few years ago, millennials jumped to the head of the generational pet ownership list. Driven by the pandemic adoption spree, millennials have only increased their lead ever since.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA),  millennials make up 32% of all U.S. pet owners, compared to 27% of Baby Boomers. Dogs are the most popular pet, with 80% of millennial pet parents owning a canine. Cat and bird ownership have also jumped among millennials.

When considering the twin statistics showing millennials delaying having kids while also owning more pets, it’s easy to see why one would assume the generation is choosing to be pet parents rather than human ones.

How Millennials Feel About Their Pets

Some millennials may view their pets as “practice” for having human kids, but they nonetheless harbor strong feelings about their furry kids.

According to a survey performed by Consumer Affairs, 58% of millennials would rather have pets than kids. A whopping 81% of millennials admitted to loving a pet more than certain family members, including half who said they loved their furry companions more than their own mother!

If necessary, millennials are willing to make financial sacrifices for their pets, including 49% who would take a second job to afford lifesaving medical care for their pets. Over 80% of millennials stated that they considered their pet’s needs when choosing a place to live, including 37% who would pick a pet-friendly city over living near their human friends.

How Much Money Are Millennials Spending on Their Pets?

welsh corgi cardigan dog and his owner
Image Credit: Krichevtseva, Shutterstock

In 2020, the global pet care market was worth nearly 208 billion U.S. dollars. By 2028, that number is expected to balloon to almost 326 billion dollars. Across the world, people are spending more on their pets.

In the United States, millennials spend an average of $1,195 per year on their pets. These pet owners (along with Gen Z pet parents) are more likely to spend money on premium food, treats, and other products for their pets. Forty percent of millennials also admit to purchasing their pet props and costumes to create social media content, based on a survey by LendingTree.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve learned, the data appears to support the common idea that millennials have a close and special relationship with their pets. A generation beset with social and economic pressure has embraced furred and feathered pets’ companionship and unconditional love. The pandemic appears to have further accelerated the millennial and Gen Z pet ownership boom.

All generations love their pets, but millennials are the first to allow that love to impact their life decisions so heavily. It remains to be seen whether Gen Z will carry on that tradition, but early signs indicate they will since they are the only generation to outspend millennials in yearly pet expenditures.

Featured Image Credit: Lopolo, Shutterstock

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