Millennials have a bad reputation in the media. If you believe the headlines, you might think we’re narcissistic, entitled, selfish, and lazy. In reality, we’re not any of those things. We’re giving, compassionate, inclusive, and socially conscious. We’re lovers, not haters.
Regardless of the facts, how we choose to live our lives is regularly criticized by other generations.
One of the biggest points of contention is many millennials’ choice not to have children.
For years, getting married and having kids was the norm. But countless members of Generation Y choose dogs over kids and are forgoing child-rearing to instead become pet parents.
If you were to query dog-loving millennials as to why they choose pups over progeny, these are some of the reasons you’d likely hear time and again.
Millennials choose dogs due to money
The main reason that many millennials choose to add dogs to their families instead of kids is solely economic. The Great Recession hit right as Generation Y graduated and entered the workforce, leaving them burdened with a lifetime of financial anxiety and student loan debt.
It’s no secret that raising children costs a lot of money, and that simply doesn’t make financial sense to millennials. If we can barely afford to live in a small apartment with several roommates while working multiple jobs, how on earth could we afford to raise a child?
Even married millennials don’t feel financially secure enough to have children — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have a family together.
That’s where dogs come in.
Dog ownership isn’t exactly cheap, but according to ASPCA estimates, the annual cost ranges from $1,001 to $1,448 (excluding one-time charges like sterilization fees). If you were to compare that to the average annual cost of raising a child, which falls at about $13,741, it’s clearly much cheaper to rear a dog than a child.
Millennials choose dogs for flexibility
Another reason millennials are choosing dogs over children is that it offers them more freedom.
Though dogs need loads of love and attention, they don’t require the constant monitoring that a human child does. After all, it’s not abusive or illegal to leave your dog home alone when you’re at work, running errands, or enjoying a night out with friends.
Dogs do perfectly fine on their own as long as they’re fed and watered, exercised, and given plenty of attention. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the expense of hiring a babysitter.
Millenials choose dogs for unconditional love
Millennials often say their dogs provide them with companionship, emotional support, security, and a sense of “home.” This isn’t surprising when you consider that the same hormone responsible for helping parents bond with their baby (oxytocin) is released when you gaze at your dog.
The great thing about dogs is that they love unconditionally for their entire lives. Children grow up, leave the nest, and go off and live their own separate lives (as they should).
A dog, however, will always be by your side. They give us the unconditional love and affection that all humans crave. Dogs don’t argue, hold grudges, insult us, or take what we do for granted. They make us better people by requiring us to be responsible, compassionate, patient, and flexible.
The bigger problem
Besides money woes and the need to be unencumbered, there is a larger societal issue that’s motivating more millennials to choose a child-free life. In America, parenthood is penalized. We fall far behind almost all developed countries in paid family leave, affordable childcare, and accessible healthcare.
Considering how wealthy our country is, our maternal mortality rate is practically criminal. Our economic situation is so bad that most households require two incomes just to stay afloat.
What’s more, parents (especially mothers) are openly criticized for their parenting choices — often in a contradictory way that ensures they’re condemned no matter what they do. They’re slammed if they choose formula, but if they breastfeed in public they’re shamed by strangers. If they stay home with their children, they’re told they’re not an empowered woman — but if they return to work, they’re neglectful mothers who choose career over family. There’s just no winning.
When millennials choose dogs over babies, it is not the cause of society’s underlying problems, it’s a symptom of it. The fact is, raising children demands far more resources than it ever has before. And more than resources, criticism, and health, millennials see where the world is headed. Many of us think it’s an unwise risk to bring a child into a world that is becoming more and more violent and traumatic.
What pet parents need to consider
A recent report from Wakefield Research found that 76 percent of millennials would splurge on their dogs before themselves. We’re more likely than other generations to try out artisanal dog treats, search for environmentally safe toys, and research the ethics of the company that makes our dog’s food. Simply put, we’re as likely to spend the same amount of effort and time on the care of our dog as other generations have on the care of their children.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve.
For those who choose to treat dogs as full family members, there are certain concerns to mull over that the dog owners of past generations may not have considered. For instance, what would you do with your pets in case of an emergency (fire, flood, tornado, etc)? Have you looked into pet insurance to help ease the burden of vet bills? Where will your dog go if you pass away unexpectedly? These are all important parts of being a responsible pet owner.
There are a plethora of reasons why millennials are shifting away from the traditional family model and bringing dogs into their homes instead of children.
But, at the end of the day, it’s the unconditional love and genuine companionship that draws us to “man’s best friend.” When day to day life is a struggle, the relationship between dog and human makes it all worthwhile.
– Noah Rue