Will aging Boomers hang on to their pets?

Will aging Boomers hang on to their pets?

More than 200 million pets of all kinds enliven 65 million American households.  Dogs and cats in particular have kept their special place in American culture.  The vast majority of dog and cat owners consider their pets to be members of the family, and most owners think of their dogs or cats as being vital to their mental and physical health. 

Yet, while Americans’ love affair with their pets continues unabated, storm clouds may be brewing on the horizon for the pet industry.  As noted in Packaged Facts November 2014 report Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S., between 2009 and 2014 pet ownership as a whole has leveled off and ownership of most types of pets has declined, in some cases significantly.  The question for the pet industry is whether it will be possible to reverse these trends or whether it will be necessary to make strategic adjustments to take into account a shrinking population of pet owners.

What happens in the wake of two oncoming demographic waves will provide the answer.  The first is the rapid acceleration in the aging of America.  Much of the growth in pet ownership over the past decade has come from the boomer cohort as it has moved through its 50s and into its 60s.  For example, consumers in the 55+ age group accounted for more than half of the growth in the population of dog owners between 2004 and 2014 and households without children at home accounted for most of the growth in the population of dog owners.  Thus, dog ownership has already begun to reflect the overall demographic trend in the direction of smaller households and older householders.

Between 2015 and 2020, as the boomer cohort continues to move into their late 60s and beyond, the number of Americans in the 65+ age group is expected to increase nearly four times faster than the growth in the adult population as a whole.  This rapid acceleration in the aging of America has raised an alarm for the pet industry because pet ownership drops off with age.  While 53% of 65- to 69-year-olds own pets, just 34% of Americans in the 70+ age group have a pet in their home. 

Yet, the generational change now underway in older age groups may actually offer a ray of hope for the pet industry.  It is true that, at the present time, the likelihood of owning a pet decreases dramatically at the age of 70.  However, throughout their lives, boomers have steadfastly refused to follow in the footsteps of previous generations.  With their preoccupation with keeping fit and feeling young, who is to say that boomers will not continue to create their own rules, march to their own drummers and, in this case, keep pets well into their later years? 

The second demographic tide sweeping over the pet industry is the rapid growth in the population of Latinos.  Even today, Latinos are disproportionately important to the pet industry as owners of birds, and they have made a significant contribution to maintaining ownership rates among dog and cat owners.

A Packaged Facts analysis of pet ownership patterns among Latinos suggests the possibility of a fresh and optimistic perspective on why Latinos are likely to be even more important to the pet industry in the future than previously anticipated.  Packaged Facts expects that as U.S.-born generations of Latinos grow in numbers, dog and cat ownership among the burgeoning Latino population will increase dramatically.  The reason for this is that the more acculturated Latinos become, the more likely they are to own dogs and cats.  In fact, the most acculturated Latinos (those who have relatively low attachment to their original culture and who are English-dominant or bi-lingual) are even more likely than U.S. adults on average to own a dog (43% vs. 41%).  The reasons for this pattern are not only cultural but also economic.  More acculturated Latinos are more likely to have the household income to defray the expenses of feeding dogs and keeping them healthy.  So, demographics may yet prove to bolster rather than weaken the pet industry as the next decade unfolds.

This blog is based on research featured in Packaged Facts’Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through February 16, 2015. Use code PFPETPOP1231.

- by Dr. Robert Brown and Ruth Washton