When the COVID-19 pandemic first started and so many of us were home baking bread, doing puzzles, and binge-watching Tiger King, many joked that this sudden isolation would lead to another Baby Boom of sorts. Well, we couldn't have been more wrong.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth rates in the U.S. reached a record low in 2020. Not only did they decline 4% from the previous year, but not since 1979 have there been so few births.
When you think about it, despite the lockdown of spring 2020, it hardly comes as a shock that birth rates are down considerably. After all, a global pandemic does not make for the most ideal circumstances in which to start a family.
In the meantime, spending so much time at home led many of us to expand our families in a different way. 23 million Americans adopted a pet in 2020, according to the ASPCA. This spike in pet adoption rates was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark time, with animals all over the country finding their forever homes and living happily ever after. Many people who otherwise wouldn't have had the time to take care of a pet due to their work schedules were now working from home and able to devote themselves to their furry friends.
In fact, we've devoted so much of our time, attention, and love to our pets that in Honest Paws' survey of 400 Millennial women who have decided they don't want children, 70% said they view their dog or cat as their child.
As a Millennial woman with two cats and (so far) zero children, this stat certainly rings true.
I've often (semi-jokingly) said something to the effect of "my cats are my babies." Depending on my audience, I'm either met with understanding from fellow pet parents or genuine annoyance from parents of actual human children who feel it is an insult to their experience.
The thing is, my cats may not actually be babies, but they are my babies. That is by no means meant to be disrespectful - far from it. It is merely a term of endearment and a reflection of how much of myself and my life is dedicated to them. I know my cats are not anywhere near as much work to raise as a child, they don't cost as much money to take care of, and by raising them instead of babies, I will never truly understand the sleep deprivation and struggles that go into having a newborn.
That's kind of the point.
Millennial women like myself understand and respect just how hard it is to raise children. We see our friends and siblings struggling firsthand; we see how stressed they are, how exhausted, how burnt out. From the rising cost of childcare (and life in general) to the lack of resources and support available, we are acutely aware of the obstacles in place should we choose to have children - and many of us are choosing the path of least resistance. (In fact, 69 percent of the women polled acknowledged having a pet is easier than having a child.)
Choosing to not have children altogether - or postposing it until later in life - allows women to focus on their careers, their partners, and (most importantly) themselves. We are taking up new hobbies, traveling, volunteering, pursuing higher education, taking care of loved ones, and yes, devoting ourselves to our pets. This decision does not make us selfish, it makes us honest. We have absorbed the information provided and decided to design a life that feels the most fulfilling to us. And whether or not you're pushing a baby stroller or a dog stroller, I think that's a beautiful thing.