If you were to believe what some media outlets have been reporting the last few years, millennials have been ruining a lot of things. An online news search reveals article after article about how the real estate industry is suffering because millennials just won't buy homes; the auto industry can't figure out how to reach millennials; millennials destroyed Blockbuster and Radio Shack. But one thing it seems they're not wrecking is increasing the numbers when it comes to pet ownership in the United States. Why?
The fact is, millennials, roughly defined as the population born between 1980 and 2000, are putting off getting married and having children until much later than older cohorts, and it seems that their four-legged friends are filling the gap. According to study done by the research agency Wakefield, the average millennial gets their first pet at the age of 21, much earlier than the average boomer, who waited until 29. And while both groups do think of pets as family, many millennials approach pet ownership as preparation for future adult responsibilities. For many, pets offer both companionship and a sense of responsibility, but require little maintenance at a time when many millennial's lives are a little unstable.
Because of this, it appears that many young people are redefining what it means to have a fulfilling home life and moving away from the dated notion that familial success means having a partner and children.
Kaitlin Crowther, a 25 year old graduate student who is studying to become an occupational therapist, explains, “At this point in my life, I feel like I know I’ve made it when I have a golden retriever. I’m not going to have a dog until I have a yard for it to play in and I’m settled in my career with a steady income. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s life, dog’s or child’s, if I’m not 100% positive I can provide for them.”
And luckily for many pets currently owned by millennials, they’re being very well provided for! According to studies, pet owners today are more sensitive to the life experiences of their animals and millennials cater more than other groups to their pets’ comfort, and spend more money on nonessential pet items. They own more pet clothing and toys and prefer enclosures like crates and kennels that allow for exercise.
Concerns about pet health and wellness has played an important role in the introduction of healthier food, nutritious pet treats, and healthcare options. Pet owners in the 18- to 34-year-old group focus on the contents of the food they feed their pets, with 68 percent agreeing that they read the ingredient list of their pet’s food. Although this group of consumers can be price sensitive, they are more likely to use pet foods with formulations that enhance the health of their pets than older generations.
But it’s important to note that while many studies and analyses of data paint millennials as people willing to throw away their money on nonessential items, it’s actually a better financial decision when compared to the cost of having a child.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people my age spending a little extra money on their pets. Like if you have some money left over at the end of the month and want to buy your dog a
sweater, you should! They’re like your family, but cheaper...and easier to please.” Crowther explains while laughing.
Like many news articles and blog posts are quick to point out, this generation also has the tendency to be more active on their smartphones and social media accounts. While there are downsides to this, it is also possible to argue that an increased presence online is helpful to pet owners and the pets themselves. For Kady Lone and Eli Omidi, co-creators of Cats of Instagram, social media is a great way to raise awareness about positive ownership and pass around useful information. In a recent article, Eli explained that increased visibility actually benefits pets. “If someone sees something going wrong [with a pet] online they’re going to post about it, and let people know.”
Furthermore, because the community brings together passionate pet owners in a single space, followers are able to share information about every conceivable pet-related issue, like reliable adoption services, behavioral training techniques and how to assist special needs pets.
While looking at all of these factors as a whole, it would appear that pets have it pretty good when it comes to being owned by a millennial. What it comes down to is that many young people are doing the responsible thing and putting the decision to have children on hold until they are financially and mentally prepared. And in the meantime they are nurturing, bonding and finding happiness with furry four-legged companions they’ve chosen to share their homes (or apartments) with.