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A Furry Socio-Economic Indicator: Deliberating Pet Ownership

By Saumya & Sanya Seth

Pet ownership and pet-raising among millennials is a burgeoning trend that has a momentous influence on a country’s economy and society. This article discusses the value of pet ownership for economies and examines the use of pet ownership as a socioeconomic indicator. Though the scope of this article is limited to discerning the potential classifications into which this socioeconomic indicator could fall if any. The debate will, however, impel our readers to explore this terrain of socio-economic indicators. 

Imagine a family photo before you start reading this essay. A wooden frame holding a still of a strange sitting-standing mash-up of formal-clad people who make up this ungainly yet cherished relic for every century. If you felt that this description was a little lacking because you reserved space for a loving house pet in that picture, then you deserve credit for this column. The millennial age is known for setting trends, and this article was/is inspired by the cardinal economic repercussions that their serendipitous affinity for domestic animals has had on the industry as well as the economy as a whole. 

Can this burgeoning pet ownership be used as a socio-economic indicator, or more generally, an indicator to better understand society? Through this article, we attempt to figure this out. 

Owning pets: A vogue? 

Socially conscious millennials make up the largest (generational) segment of pet owners, with statistical evidence of more than 30%. However, they cannot be entirely credited for the current state of the pet market. Literature capturing the generational characteristics has described millennials (also known as Generation Y) as narcissistic consumers with hedonistic preferences, emphasizing the critical role that product symbolism plays in their consumer decisions. The contribution by generation-Z (younger than Generation Y) has given the relationship between pets and owners a new depth. 

Pet ownership for utilitarian purposes alone is a thing of the millennial past since modern pet owners (Gen Z) resonate with a deep commitment to their animal’s well-being and are thus more appropriately referred to as pet parents rather than pet owners. Four-legged pals are no longer just status symbols or objects for hedonistic consumption. This blending of the lines between pet ownership and pet humanization has expanded the definition of the consumer market’s bounds. 

The Ascending Pet Industry: Economic Ripples of Generational Trends To meet the demands of Gen Z prosumers who view their pets as members of their families, the traditional definition of a consumer—”A person who purchases or uses goods and services to satisfy individual wants”—has been expanded, and the word “person” will soon be replaced by “living things.” It has encouraged households to invest in the luxuries of pet life (toys, pet taxis, pet hotels, pet insurance, etc.), in addition to paying more attention to their general health, food-nutritional needs, and etiquette training. This picture is reflected in the growth of the pet sector during the pandemic. In addition to the increase in pet adoption of around 600,000 pets

every year and ownership that the pandemic brought about, most pet families reported relatively modest or no changes in their spending on the food and nutrition of their pets, while cutting down on their own luxuries to deal with the situation of the financial crisis. Customers value both the health of their pets and their own families, which has enabled the pet industry to become recession resilient. 

The increasing expenditure as well as the cost of pampering pets, amounting to around Rs.4000 per month, has emphasized the growth of the pet industry, and it is predicted to grow even further at a value of INR 7500 crore. The advantages that pet owners receive, as well as the welfare and care services for the pets in exchange, have favorable effects on the economy as a whole. The pet business contributes billions to the economy and a sizable share of state, federal, and municipal taxes since it is recession-proof. Additionally, growing nuclear families, double-income households, and lifestyle changes emphasize larger growth margins for the pet industry, and it is projected to reach $490 million by 2022. 

This exponential increase in pet ownership and the booming $310 million pet food industry, which places the highest priority on meeting the nutritional needs of pets, seems like an ironic plot twist in a nation that was earlier home to 80 million stray animals. 

Identifying the diamond in the rough: Highlighting the positive effects of the pandemic The increased compassion for animals is a result of the terrifying socio-economic reverberations that the pandemic has caused throughout the world. 

First of all, the working-age group became aware of the value of work-life balance as a result of the compulsive yet much-needed time that people spent with their families. Since individuals don’t feel the need to form social bonds as much when there are pets around, more dogs have been adopted both during and after the pandemic. Oxytocin release is one of the favorable side effects of this socioeconomically advantageous relationship. 

Second, households are striving to reduce their steadily rising daily expenses in response to the negative upshots of the pandemic, which are recession and unemployment issues. This restricts family planning and forces millenials to choose between raising children or pets. People are selecting pub parenting, which costs around $2674 per year, as a temporary relief from the otherwise colossal costs of child-raising and welfare, which total about $12,800 per year, despite the possibility of larger socio-economic gains from human parenting. 

Pet industries’ contribution: Making eminent indications? 

The discussion until now aids us in inferring two things about the pet industry: First, it is a steady contributor to the economy of a country with a promising future. Second, it appropriately reflects the social conditions of a country due to the significant correlation of pet ownership with the general and mental well-being of people, work culture, disposable incomes, cost of living and child-rearing, etc. Multiple socio-economic future trends can be predicted for any region/country using data about the current trends in pet ownership and the trajectory of the pet industry. Thus, it plays a role akin to that of an indicator by anticipating emerging patterns or, occasionally, by illustrating the effects of already occurring events.

Pet ownership is a paradigm of a socioeconomic indicator due to the inherent qualities of data ancillary to the pet sector. However, if we attempt to typecast the indicator, we may find ourselves at a crossroads. This is because we may witness a conflict between rationals supporting two opposing schools of thought. The proponents of one school may contend that pet ownership is a lagging indicator since it reflects current events in a more unusual or characteristic fashion, using timing as its basis. A country’s pet ownership rate, for instance, could be a good indicator of recent changes in the typical citizen’s discretionary income, such as those brought on by resource shortages or other economic shocks. 

The proponents of the opposing school of thought, however, can assert that pet ownership is a leading economic indicator since it offers information or a postulation about the approaching economic conditions because timing is a common characteristic. The same is true when estimating a population’s health. The likelihood that people’s mental stress levels will decrease and that they will feel less lonely or eager for external social connections will decrease in the future as a consequence of the rise in pet ownership rates in the present. 

While these issues cast contention on our claim that pet ownership is a socioeconomic indicator, a greater hurdle lies ahead. As the turbulence of the digital era begins to seep deeper into society, it threatens to perturb humanity too as it posits to replace every aspect of the physical world in this age of AI and robotics. The ease of luxury that remote interactions provide to its users tempts them to question the very dynamics of ownership and potentially puts the bond between pets and people in jeopardy. 

Furthermore, due to the inherent time constraints that professionally-oriented individuals face, they may decide to opt for distant ownership; that is, they may decide to remotely own dogs but never actually bring them home. While their pets are being looked after in designated shelter homes, they can virtually engage with the creatures they chose to adopt. In addition, this emerging period may witness a trend where individuals choose to spend money on a robot or AI-powered pet instead of keeping live animals as pets, considering it to be a one-time investment that will demand less maintenance moving forward. 

However, this foreseeable trend in pet ownership forces us to return to our starting point because of the transient nature of the current era. It prompts us to reconsider our claim of officiating pet ownership as a socio-economic indicator when its real-time significance is dubious in this technologically evolving world.

Saumya & Sanya Seth are currently studying in Ashoka University.

Image credits – Forbes

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