Young Americans are having fewer children. Does this affect cat ownership?

A survey by the New York Times tells us that young Americans are having fewer children. Although there are a number of reasons for this a major reason is expense set against a more competitive world, increased human population and global instability. The top reason given is that childcare is too expensive and the third reason is that they are worried about the economy and the fourth is that they can’t afford more children. Right away you can see that money issues are the primary reason for not having children. The current rate is 1.8 children per family which is below the sustainable population level of 2.1 per family.

Jessica Boer, 26, decided not to have children. Photo: Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

There is also the need or desire for women to have a career and work. There appears to be a greater desire for the current generation to progress their career and of course children prevent this for women. The motivation for women to have a career emanates from the greater equality between women and men nowadays and the need to increase family income which is a necessity because of the financial difficulties faced by the modern generation. It is said that both in the UK and the USA the current generation is going to be poorer than earlier generations. Buying your own home is more difficult. Certainly in the UK the idea of owning your own home has gone south for many. It’s just too expensive and as the population size of the UK increases property prices tend to rise making them more unaffordable.

These factors (and there are others) work against having children. How does this affect the decision to have a cat? It seems to me that there are two competing pressures. First is that the decision to have a cat should be similar to that of having a baby. Expense should be the number one factor. It’s not cheap looking after a domestic cat properly. Okay it is nowhere near as expensive as a baby which can cost about a £250k in the UK to adulthood but the cost is around £15,000 over the lifetime of the cat. It must be a similar number in the US but in dollars.

If you have two or three cats that starts to make inroads into your budget at around £45,000 over 15 to 18 years. If money is a worry then cat adoption should be slowing in America. Set against this, domestic cats can be regarded as a baby substitute. If you don’t have a baby, you might have a cat instead. And women often make the decisions on cat ownership.

Reasons why Americans are not having kids. Thanks NYT.

Global Newswire tell us that can population and ownership trends indicate that 59 million Americans own cats and critically there has been little growth in cat population ownership over the past decade. Going back about 10 years Americans were at a time when they had the financial crisis of 2008. That changed people’s perception about family budgets and in 2010 there was an increase in the number of cat relinquishment to shelters in at least certain areas of America. There is no doubt that it was due to financial difficulties.

So the cat population is not growing in America which would indicate that the mentality of young adults in America regarding having a baby is similar with respect to having a cat. Although the topline trend for dog ownership in America shows an increase of 29% in the past decade. In fact the number of dog owners exceeds human population growth in America. And the number of unmarried and childless dog owners has increased.

Perhaps then young adults are deciding not to have children but a dog instead, rather than a cat, which would imply that it is a money based decision (pets are cheaper than babies) with a preference for dogs over cats.

The lack of growth in cat ownership in America might be worrying. If the percentage of irresponsible cat owners remains stable, in an increasing human population there will be more irresponsible cat owners resulting in more unwanted cats needing homes. If those homes are unavailable it will slow the decline in euthanasia rates at shelters. The next question is why Americans are preferring dogs over cats.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • The human population does not need to be sustained at it's current level. Most of the problems in the world can be solved by reducing population density. Choosing to have fewer children is the most logical.
    The major difference between a human baby and a cat is that you probably won't have to incur childcare costs leaving you free to work. You can nurture your cat to your hearts desire as long as you are a respectful guardian and remember they are indeed cats not little humans.

    • I'd love to see the current commercial model of economic growth dropped and replaced with a stable level with zero pop growth. Economic growth demands pop growth and where does it stop?

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