Demography suggests Earth is far more likely to become the “Orb of the Dogs,” as human fertility rates plummet for a slew of reasons, including canines substituting for kids in many households.
It’s not just Americans turning pets into “fuzzy, low-maintenance replacements for children,” says writer Jonathan Last. It’s happening in Italy, Japan and elsewhere.
American pets outnumbered children for the first time in 2006, said Last, a father who’s not kidding when he says people with only pets are happier and less stressed than parents of humans. That’s what surveys and studies find, he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Colorado has more than 1.1 million dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and not quite 350,000 children under 5 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the U.S., there are 145 million dogs and cats, compared with 20.2 million kids under 5.
Yet more spoiled pooches is one of the least troublesome consequences of collapsing fertility rates, said Last, a writer with the conservative Weekly Standard and author of the new book “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster.”
To those who think declining birth rates are a good thing for a crowded planet — and that “be fruitful and multiply” is so two millennia ago — Last says, “Think again.”
Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends reported in December that the overall birth rate in the U.S. fell to 63.2 births per 1,000 in 2011, the lowest level since records began in 1920. By contrast, in 1957 — the height of the baby boom — the overall birth rate was 122.7 .
“It isn’t the contraction in population that worries you so much,” Last said. “It’s that you end up with so many more old people than young people.”
Higher divorce rates, cohabitation outside marriage, effective birth control, legalization of abortion, women in the workplace, delayed marriage and motherhood and the exploding costs of raising children have pushed Americans into having fewer kids, Last said.
From stringent safety requirements for car seats to lost wages for stay-at-home parents and a 1,000 percent increase in college tuition in real dollars since 1960, Last said, having kids is a terrible financial investment.
It once made sense to have kids who would take care of you in your old age, Last wrote, but now there are government entitlements for that.
Yet, as the largest generation — 78 million baby boomers — progresses into retirement, paying higher medical costs and collecting Social Security payments, Pew analysts noted, the newest, smallest generation of workers will have to support it.
The Social Security Administration reports that in 1940, 159 workers supported each U.S. retiree. By 2010, just under three workers supported each retiree.
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