Millennials - How the Childless Generation is Leaning into Pet Parenthood
Updated: Aug 19
For most pet owners, pets are like members of the family. They are more than the guard dogs and mousers of generations past; today’s pets play a more emotional role, offering companionship and comfort. We at Offleash’d understand the special bond between animals and humans and how those relationships affect our health and our connections with others. For the millennial generation in particular, pets are not just filling these familial roles – in some instances, they’re replacing them.
To better understand the relationship between millennials and their pets, we need to first examine the nature of millennials themselves. For starters, according to data published by the CDC, birth rates in the United States have been declining in recent years, reaching a record low in 2020. Millennials, sometimes teased as the Childless Generation, figure heavily in these statistics. There are several factors that contribute to this decline, from the increase of women in higher-paying jobs - thus altering the face of the nuclear family unit that has persisted for generations - to the economic insecurity brought on as a result of the 2008 recession and later the Covid-19 pandemic. The millennial relationship to money is strained as they face the reality of making a basic living while facing some of the highest inflation rates of any generation.
This has led many millennials to put off standard adulthood milestones, such as owning a home and starting a family. For some, it’s a decision based on external factors – they don’t want to raise a child in the world’s current conditions (pandemics, climate crisis, etc.) or they don’t feel there are enough resources available to help them raise a child, such as affordable health and childcare. For others, it’s a shift in priorities. Millennials are known to be an individualistic generation focused on self-actualization and advancement, prioritizing their career, education and freedom. The act of settling down into family life can be seen as the antithesis to these values.
While millennials may not be ready to have children of their own, this hasn’t stopped them from becoming loving caretakers of Earth’s cutest critters. According to Forbes, millennials make up the largest percentage of current pet owners in the United States at 33%, followed by Gen X at 25% and Boomers at 24%. By staying single longer and delaying the plunge into family life, pets offer a way to fill the void of intimacy, in essence becoming like surrogate children. As the second largest spenders on pet related products behind Gen Z, millennials are willing to dedicate significant funds to the care of their furbabies, much like how one would provide for a child.
A focus on healthy living and eco-conscious values has made millennials a major player in the pet industry, as they opt for more luxury accessories, sustainably made toys and bedding or organic pet food made with fresh ingredients. This motivation to spend more on quality products comes down in part to visibility. Millennials grew up in tandem with the growth of social networking platforms, making them not only technologically adept, but comfortable sharing curated aspects of their lives to a sphere to strangers. They are more willing to buy products through affiliate links that are promoted by their favorite influencer and in turn share their love for certain products to their own followers via paid and unpaid ads. Companies are even partnering with pet influencers, capitalizing on the high engagement rates that pet-centric social media accounts pull in across the board. For the millennial generation, it’s nothing but the best for their pets – and they want the world to know it.
This trend of delaying parenthood (or avoiding it altogether) can have lasting effects not just on the economy, but on the culture of our society as well as priorities shift, and the fields of science and medicine continue to evolve. Faced with potentially more time and more opportunities, people have found the freedom to create a life for themselves that bucks the traditional model. Millennials are reframing old narratives, turning stereotypes into trending lifestyles. They are showing the world that you can live in a way that satisfies your dreams and goals without comprising loving connections. The role that animals play in our lives is continuously changing to meet the changing needs of the world, and millennials are greeting this new approach to family life with open arms!