Pets Outnumber Children in U.S.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pets Outnumber Children in U.S.

A new book on demographics reports that pets now outnumber children 4 to 1 in the United States.

The book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathon V. Last, is set for release tomorrow, February 5.

According to an article in The Weekly Standard, Last writes, “At the micro level, the pet boom is … unsettling.”

“...educated, middle-class people have all but stopped having babies,” he writes. “Pets have become fuzzy, low-maintenance replacements for children.”

Last refers to the explosion in the pet growth industry as “pet mania,” citing that spending on our pets grew from $1.7 billion a year in 1994 to $4.3 billion in 2008. In 2010, he points out, we were in the middle of a recession. While many pets were surrendered because people could no longer afford to care for them, spending on our pets also grew to over $4.8 billion.

Last laments that our insurance companies now have policies that cover our pets while they ride with us in our cars and he points to the advent of pet trusts as part of this “pet mania.”

“Wealthy dog owners have successfully lobbied for changes in estate law allowing pets to legally receive inheritances and trust funds.”

He points to the HAPPY Act (Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years), a proposed Congressional bill that failed, which would have provided pet owners a $3,500 tax break. This is more than people get for a child, he claims (technically, this is not true, the per dependent deduction for a child is $4,650).  

The reason for all of this anti-pet sentiment?

A post on Free Republic posits that when countries start seeing a decline in human repopulation, historically, bad things happen to those countries, including disease, war, and poverty. A decline in people paying taxes, of course, means a decline in social programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

The author points out that the worldwide population “explosion” that environmentalists and even governments were once concerned about is in decline, and may well continue on that course.

My husband and I chose long ago not to have any human children for a myriad of reasons, none of which had to do with having pets. There is even a name for us: DINC, Double Income, No Children.

We chose to have “furry kids,” but it was never a choice of  either/or, it was just a natural continuation of having pets since childhood. There was no reason to give up having pets.  

Our choice was one even my mother eventually embraced, calling our canine kids her “grand dogs” and even participating in the Santa Paws celebration with us on Christmas morning, especially when our Dachshund, Hershey, got into the spirit by actually ripping open her gifts.

I don’t know a lot about demographics, but it does seem logical to me that if too many people stop having children and have furry kids instead, our system will eventually collapse. Because it’s true, our cats and dogs generally don’t work and cannot pay into the tax system.

However, I think it is unfair to target the advances society has made in helping to protect our pets through insurance policies and pet protection plans and trusts. If we’re looking at the purely economic aspect, insurance policies help pet parents from becoming financially ruined through helping save their pets' lives in the event of an accident. If a pet parent has to file bankruptcy due to outstanding pet medical bills, that doesn’t help society either.

It isn’t just “wealthy” pet parents who are wisely choosing to protect their pets in their wills, through pet protection agreements, and through pet trusts. If a pet is turned over to a municipal shelter when its owner dies, how does placing that burden on the tax payer help society?

I think it’s also just as illogical to expect that everyone is cut out to be a parent to a human child, just as it is to expect that everyone is cut out to be a pet parent. I’ve seen too many bad ones of each to think otherwise.

I see the author’s point in declining demographics, but I also see an upside to humans finding a sense of family in the unconditional love a pet provides.

As one commenter points out on the Free Republic article, our dogs may not be paying into Social Security for us or providing for us in our “dotage,” but there is nothing to guarantee our human children would do that for us either.

I can guarantee, however, that my dogs, without fail, will get up every day of their lives and be there for us unconditionally, for as long as they are able.    

Editor’s Note: Image by Flickr user Aaron E. Silvers

What do you think, are people valuing pets more than children, as the author of this book seems to suggest?