As income inequality rises and having children becomes ever more expensive, pet ownership has in some ways replaced parenthood. Millennials are more likely than other age groups to adopt pets, and many consider their animals trial runs for future children.

While Millennials are delaying or forgoing parenthood at higher rates than previous generations, they’re also leading the way when it comes to adopting pets. During the pandemic, this trend accelerated with 50% of Millennials considering fostering or adopting a pet.

I’m not exempt from the statistics: this past year, I headed down to my local animal shelter and returned home with two senior cats, Annie and Hailey. Annie likes long naps in the sun and Party Mix, and Hailey likes tuna fish and waking me up at six in the morning. At least in my case, there’s a simple reason behind pet ownership: pets can help to make our day to day lives a little bit happier, especially during uncertain times.

Are Millennials adopting pets instead of having children?

While Millennial Parenthood Stagnates, Pet Ownership Is On The Rise - Are Millennials adopting pets instead of having children?

Millennials trail behind previous generations when it comes to achieving traditionally “adult” milestones, including purchasing a home, getting married, and having children. According to data from the National Vital Statistics System, in 2019 the general fertility rate in the United States declined to 58.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. When Millennials do have children, they tend to be older than first-time parents of previous generations and have fewer children overall.

One statistic where Millenials do lead the way, however, is pet ownership. 27% of Millennials own a pet, and many more have plans to adopt a furry friend in the future. During a time when having children may seem risky or financially out of reach, pet ownership can be a way to approximate the experience of starting a family.

Are Millennials adopting pets at higher rates?

While Millennial Parenthood Stagnates, Pet Ownership Is On The Rise - Are Millennials adopting pets at a higher rate?

Millennials are adopting pets at a higher rate than previous generations, and they’re also less likely to have children of their own. The causal effects between parenthood and pet ownership aren’t so clear cut, however: many Millennials who adopt pets plan to have babies in the future, with some even considering pets as a trial run for potential children.

In most cases, adopting furry friends isn’t a zero-sum game. Millennials who might not be ready for the financial burden of parenthood may choose to adopt an animal in the meantime, whether they plan to have children in the future or not. They may also view pet ownership as more compatible with other short-term goals, like travel or career advancement.

Thinking about adopting a pet? Here’s what it will cost

While Millennial Parenthood Stagnates, Pet Ownership Is On The Rise - Thinking about adopting a pet? Here’s what it will cost

Whereas other traditionally adult milestones, like purchasing a home, getting married, and starting a family, can seem frustratingly out of reach, pet ownership is a more affordable and accessible option for many Millennials.

That said, it still comes with a variety of costs and expenses, with an average of $681 for cats and $1,201 for dogs (CNBC) per year. If you’re thinking of adopting a furry friend, you should be sure that you’re in a good financial position to do so.

Are pets cheaper than children?

The short answer is that, yes, pets are much less expensive to raise than children. For young adults who may still be getting their footing financially, adopting a pet is a much lower-cost endeavor than choosing to have a child.

Raising a child can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year for a middle-class family, while caring for an animal may only cost a few hundred. Some of the most significant costs related to raising a child, like increased housing costs and food costs, won’t apply to a pet, since your furry friend doesn’t need their own bedroom and will be perfectly fine eating kibble.

Adoption fees

Adoption fees can vary widely depending on what type of animal you adopt, whether you get them from a breeder or a shelter, and where you live. Purebred dogs can cost hundreds of dollars, while adopting a senior cat from a shelter may cost as little as $25.

Supplies

You’ll need some basic supplies for your pet. If you’re adopting a dog, you’ll need:

  • Dog food and bowls.
  • A leash and harness. 
  • A dog collar to start.
  • A dog crate (depending on the temperament of your new puppy).
  • Training supplies. 

If you’re adopting a cat, you’ll need:

  • Cat food and bowls.
  • A litter box and cat litter.
  • Toys.
  • Cozy beds for them to sleep in.
  • Treats and snacks.

Make sure your pet is covered by pet insurance

While Millennial Parenthood Stagnates, Pet Ownership Is On The Rise - Make sure you have pet insurance for your pet

Some of the most significant costs you’ll face as a pet owner include vet and health-related expenses. These can range from a few hundred dollars spent on vet visits and checkups each year, to thousands of dollars for emergency treatment.

Because pet health costs can be pricey for life-saving procedures, pet insurance is something you don’t want to skimp on when adopting a pet. This insurance helps to make sure that you’re covered if your pet has a medical emergency, and can save you money in the long run when it comes to expensive vet bills and related fees. 

Lemonade pet insurance

Lemonade’s pet insurance covers diagnostics, procedures, medications, accidents, and illness. If you choose to add on additional wellness coverage, you’ll save on routine and preventative care like wellness exams, heartworm and fecal tests, bloodwork, and vaccines. So really, most treatments your pet requires should be covered through Lemonade!

Prices start at as low as $10 (yup, you heard that right!), and you can save an additional 10% if you also purchase home or renters insurance through Lemonade. The application process is super simple, and you can complete it online or through their mobile app, with no phone call or in-person visit required (perfect for phone-averse Millennials).

Another nice added bonus when it comes to Lemonade is that the company is a public benefit corporation. This means that they donate a portion of their profits to charities like the Progressive Animal Welfare Society and the Humane Society of the United States.

Embrace pet insurance

Embrace covers up to 90% back on vet costs, as well as coverage for accidents, illness, and preventative care. 

One unique perk of Embrace, though, is that they reduce your deductible by $50 each year you don’t receive a claim payment. Unlike some other pet insurance providers, Embrace also automatically covers all your pet’s exam fees, which can be a nice benefit if you make frequent trips to the vet.

As for pre-existing conditions, Embrace does distinguish between curable and incurable conditions and will cover curable ones after your pet is symptom-free for 12 months (this is unique in the pet insurance industry).

Pumpkin pet insurance

Pumpkin offers pet insurance with perks like an optional preventative care package, up to 90% reimbursement, and no upper age limit. With Pumpkin, you’ll get coverage for everything from an annual wellness exam to lab tests and screenings for intestinal worms, heartworm, and tick diseases.

An insurance policy from Pumpkin also includes coverage for accidents and illnesses, diagnostics and treatment, prescription medicine, emergencies, surgeries, and specialized care. You can rest assured that your pet will receive all the care they need to stay healthy, without having to worry as much about the cost. 

Speaking of cost – Pumpkin will offer big discounts for folks with large pet families who insure multiple pets.

Pumpkin Advertiser Disclosure: Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. ("Pumpkin") (NPN #19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113, Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin Preventive Essentials is not an insurance policy. It is offered as an optional add-on non-insurance benefit. Pumpkin is responsible for the product and administration. Pumpkin Preventive Essentials is not available in all states. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/customeragreement.

Why Millennials may opt for pets over children

While Millennial Parenthood Stagnates, Pet Ownership Is On The Rise - Why Millennials may opt for pets over children

There’s no one-size-fits-all reason why anyone chooses to have children or adopt a pet. However, there are some widespread factors that may be contributing to the trend.

Financial instability

Thanks to the effects of the Great Recession, Millennials are likely to accumulate less wealth than previous generations, with real median household income increasing only slightly over the past several decades. Meanwhile, the costs of raising a child have skyrocketed. Middle-class families are projected to spend an average of $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015, with housing, food, and childcare making up a large portion of those costs.

For Millennials worried about affording basic expenses like rent and healthcare, adding a child to the mix can seem financially irresponsible, if not impossible. Many young people may prefer to wait to have kids until they’ve achieved enough financial stability to be able to provide for their children. 

When compared with a price tag in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pet ownership can seem downright affordable. And while pet owners may splurge on accessories for their animals or have to foot the occasional vet bill, pets remain much, much less expensive than children.

An uncertain future

Even for Millennials who are able to make ends meet and save a little for the future, starting a family can seem like a risky move during an uncertain time. According to a recent study by Morning Consult, 17% of Millennials without children are delaying starting a family because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 15% indicated that they are reconsidering having children at all.

For Millennials worried about the current pandemic, as well as other looming concerns like climate change and growing economic inequality, parenthood can appear particularly fraught. In the same study, 18% of Millennials listed the political and economic climate as a major reason why they haven’t had children, while 13% listed climate change. A significant 38% cited cost as a major reason for not having children.

In contrast, pet parenthood is way up since the start of the pandemic, with 50% of Millennials considering adopting or fostering a pet. In a stressful world full of unprecedented challenges, a furry friend can provide comfort, companionship, and purpose. Especially for young people who have experienced increased isolation as a result of the pandemic, adopting a pet can be a way to cope with loneliness and stress.

Changing cultural expectations

While it’s certainly true that it’s more expensive for Millenials to have children than for past generations, economic and political uncertainties aren’t the only reasons young people may be delaying becoming parents. While marriage and children might have been expected for earlier generations, Millennials may feel less pressure to follow a set path and achieve particular milestones by a certain age.

Instead, they may be more inclined to advance their careers, travel, or pursue personal goals. Young people who might not be ready for the responsibility of raising a child may look at pet parenthood as a low-stakes way to reap many of the same benefits of fulfillment and companionship, while also preparing to have a child in the future.

Summary

With more Millennials delaying kids or opting out of parenthood altogether, pet ownership has emerged as an alternative way to enjoy many of the rewards that come with starting a family. Owning pets isn’t exactly like becoming a parent, but the process does share some similarities: animals can provide comfort and companionship regardless of how many children you might have.

Most people adopt pets simply because it makes them happy and improves their quality of life. That’s definitely true in my case. It brightens my day to have my two little companions follow me from room to room, taking long naps in the sun and never leaving my side for long. For many people, owning pets is one of the unmitigated joys in life, and that’s something to celebrate, even during challenging times.

Read more:

Related Tools

About the author

Total Articles: 34
Margaret Wack is a writer based in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her writing on personal finance has appeared in venues including The Simple Dollar and Interest.com. She has degrees from Smith College and St. John's College, and enjoys good tea, dead languages, and bad weather.