Make Way for Boomer Pet Owners!

Make Way for Boomer Pet Owners!

The eyes of pet industry marketers are rightly fixed on pet owners under the age of 40.  Although younger pet owners have not yet reached their peak earning capacity, they are significant spenders on pet products and services.  According to Consumer Expenditure Survey data, households headed by 25- to 34-year-olds spend $11.3 billion annually on pets, including pet products and services, while those headed by 18- to 37-year-olds spend $16.6 billion. 

Millennial pet owners (those in the 25- to 39-year-old age group) are the object of special attention.  The 37 million Millennials who own pets constitute 27% of all pet owners.  Millennials are an especially important consumer group for segments of the pet industry marketing products and services to owners of pets other than dogs or cats.  Millennials make up one in three owners of pets such as fish, birds, rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters. 

Another reason why Millennial pet owners constitute a key pet market consumer segment is that compared to pet owners in older age groups, 25- to 39-year-old pet owners are more likely to have younger pets that they have acquired recently.  The combination of younger, recently acquired dogs or cats leads younger owners to have an immediate need for and a higher propensity to purchase pet products of all kinds.  According to Simmons National Consumer Study data, dog or cat owners in the 25- to 39-year-old age group are more likely than their older counterparts to have purchased in the last 12 months beds, bowls, feeders and waterers, carriers, crates and kennels, grooming supplies, and toys.

However, a recent Packaged Facts report entitled Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 3rd Edition (October 2019) suggests that substantial opportunities among pet owners in the 55-and-over age group are hiding in plain sight.  Over the past decade the 55- to 74-year-old age group (Boomers) is the only segment to have experienced an increase in the pet ownership rate.  Between 2008 and 2018 the percent of Boomers owning a pet grew from 50% to 54%.  At the same time, the pet ownership rate among 18- to 39-year-olds declined from 63% to 61% and the percent of 40- to 54-year-olds owning pets remained essentially the same (64.3% vs. 64.1%).  Although pet ownership historically has dropped significantly as adults turn 70, it is especially noteworthy that during the past decade the percent of 70- to 74-year-olds with pets increased from 41% to 45%.

As a result of the outsize significance of the Boomer cohort and growing tendency of American adults to maintain a bond with pets as they age, Boomers and Seniors accounted for the vast majority of the growth in the population of pet owners over the past decade.  Between 2008 and 2018 the number of pet owners in the 55-and-over age group grew by 11.6 million, while pet owners under the age of 40 increased by only 4.1 million and the population of pet owners in the 40- to 54-year-old age group declined by 2.9 million. 

Over the past decade those in the 55-and-over age group became a larger proportion of pet owners across all pet types.  The percent of dog owners in this age group increased from 27% to 32%.  The proportion of cat owners who are 55 and over grew from 27% to 33% and owners of all other pets in this age segment increased from 16% to 24% of the total. 

Dog owners in the Boomer generation have been particularly likely to hang on to canine companionship as they have aged.  The percent of those in this age segment owning dogs increased from 34% to 38%.  Compared to their predecessors in the 55- to 74-year-old age group a decade ago, all age segments of the Boomer generation demonstrate a higher propensity to own dogs.  Even those in their early 70s are now more likely to own dogs (31% vs. 27%).

It is telling that Boomers continue to acquire puppies as they age.  Packaged Facts estimates that 1.4 million 55- to 74-year-olds own puppies and other dogs less than one year old.  An additional 5.2 million Boomers have dogs between one and three years old.

These pet ownership trends translate into consumer spending patterns. Households headed by Boomers account for 33% of all households and 40% of aggregate expenditures on pets ($34.4 billion).  Together, Boomers and their older counterparts in their mid-70s and over account for 47% of aggregate expenditures on pets.

This blog is based on the Packaged Facts report  Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 3rd Edition and was written by industry analysts Dr. Robert Brown and Ruth Washton