When Puppy Love Means Disaster: Pets as a Sign of Demographic Winter

As another warning of demographic winter, the headline at the New York Post is arresting: “More young women choosing dogs over motherhood.”

If you’re wondering why playgrounds around the city are so quiet and dog runs are packed, a new report has an answer: More and more US women are forgoing motherhood and getting their maternal kicks by owning handbag-size canines.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that a big drop in the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 corresponds with a huge increase in the number of tiny pooches owned by young US women, reports the business-news site Quartz.

Dog-crazy New York ladies told The Post that they aren’t surprised by the findings — and that they happily gave up diaper changes, temper tantrums and college funds for the easy affection of their doggy “child.”

“I’d rather have a dog over a kid,” declared Sara Foster, 30, a Chelsea equities trader who says her French bulldog, Maddie, brings her more joy than a child.

“It’s just less work and, honestly, I have more time to go out. You . . . don’t have to get a baby sitter.”

Of course, the women probably aren’t quite that crazed at the outset. What happens is that they decide to pursue college and a career and then realize that their chances of having a child are slipping away. So they comfort themselves with a dog and rationalize the choices they have made.

But what I think is fascinating is that women treating dogs as children is an international phenomenon. In Jonathan Last’s essay, “America’s One-Child Policy,” he tells us of demographic implosions in many nations, including Japan:

Japan’s demographic momentum kept its population slowly increasing during the late 1990s and early 2000s; in 2004, it peaked at 127.84 million. And then the contraction began. In 2008, Japan lost 145,000 people and by 2025, it will have lost 6 million. By 2050, it will have shed an additional 17 million people, leaving its total population around 100 million and falling. And a declining population is necessarily an aging population, meaning that you’re faced with both a decline in demand for goods and services (because the population is getting smaller) and at the same time a labor shortage (because so many of the remaining people are too old to work). In 2050, the largest five-year cohort in Japan is expected to be people aged 75-79. While health care will likely be a growth sector, this is not a recipe for a robust economy.

Culturally speaking, Japan’s fertility problem is a marriage problem: As Japanese women began attending college at greater rates in the 1970s, they began to delay marriage. By 2000, the average age of first marriage for college graduates was over 30. At first, these women simply postponed childbearing; then they abandoned it. Today, college-educated Japanese women have, on average, barely one child during their lifetimes.

These changes created some new cultural stereotypes in Japan. For instance, it is not uncommon to see dogs paraded around in strollers by childless, adult women.

Japan is further along the demographic winter than we are in America. But notice that the stereotype is the same. Dogs replace babies.

This isn’t just bad taste; it is the promise of economic pain in the future—it is a disaster stalking many nations.