Baby Boomers Buck 'Tradition' of Pet Ownership Declining With Age

pet ownership

Story at-a-glance -

  • Historically, people have tended to own fewer pets as they age; the baby boomer generation is showing no signs of slowing pet ownership
  • In 2015, U.S. pet spending was estimated to reach nearly $60.6 billion with baby boomers making up a large part of the spending
  • If you’re in good health and you have the financial resources to support it, there are many benefits to pet ownership, at any age
  • Many animal shelters have “senior to senior” programs to match older pets to older humans

By Dr. Becker

The baby boomer generation (those born from 1946 to 1964) has long been a pet-loving population. In 2012, Americans spending on pet products was estimated at over $52 billion, thanks in large part to the boomer generation.

That same year, however, a Bloomberg article suggested baby boomers wouldn’t be able to keep up their spending on pets, citing statistics that people tend to own fewer pets as they age.1

The costs of routine veterinary care could be difficult for seniors living on fixed incomes to afford, the article stated, and their smaller homes or health issues could make caring for a pet increasingly burdensome.

It turns out, however, that the prediction was wrong. Years later, baby boomers are still spending money on their beloved pets and, by some measures, it may be at an all-time high.

Baby Boomers ‘Break Historical Pattern’ of Less Pet Ownership With Age

In 2014, the American Pet Products Association revealed that the pet industry is expanding at a steady 4 percent to 6 percent a year. In 2014, spending reached $58 billion and the association estimated spending would reach nearly $60.6 billion in 2015, with basic annual expenses of about $1,600.2

Association president and CEO Bob Vetere told USA Today that baby boomers were in fact feeding a large part of the growth. As they become empty nesters, their pets are providing the “love and affection they used to get from their kids,” he said.3

According to the 2015 to 2016 National Pet Owners Survey, baby boomers still represent 37 percent of all pet owners. Petfood Industry further reported:4

At around 77 million strong, the generally high-earning and big-spending baby boomers are one of the most important forces driving the pet industry and one that holds enormous promise. To date, boomers have broken the historical pattern of slacking off in pet ownership as they age.

Instead, they have superimposed their proclivities toward health/wellness and self-pampering onto their pets.

… If boomers' ‘rule-breaking’ behavior with regard to pet ownership continues, the result will be robust pet market participation in the senior cohort, where pet ownership rates have historically been far below average.”

Pets Offer Many Benefits to Retirees

Baby boomers, it appears, have no intention of giving up their pets as they age, and why should they? If you’re in good health and you have the financial resources to support it, there are many benefits to pet ownership, at any age.

Pets provide companionship, help you overcome loneliness and encourage you to stay active. One of the greatest benefits is often overlooked and that is keeping you focused on the present moment.

Pets provide a focal point for your attention and demand a certain structure to your day, something that many miss following retirement.

Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine, shared several additional benefits that pets bring to retirees, some of which you may not have considered. For instance, pets:5

Are something to touch, which provides comfort Require nurturing, which brings psychological and physical relaxation Encourage more exercise
May help lower blood pressure Help orient your day, as they require regular feeding and care Focus your attention
Provide humor Are social facilitators, giving you something to talk about Give you a sense of purpose

How the Pet Industry Is Catering to Older Americans

If you like the idea of having a pet but aren’t sure you want a full-time commitment, there are programs out there that allow you to “rent” a pet, foster an animal or share a pet with other families.

Some organizations are working toward therapy dog visits right in your home while other groups provide pet care services, like dog walking, to seniors. An increasing number of senior centers and retirement communities are even open to residents moving in with pets.

According to the senior living referral service A Place for Mom, 40 percent of those looking for senior housing arrangements ask whether pets are allowed.6 They explained:7

“More senior assisted living communities have begun to integrate animals into their care through pet therapy programs, and more communities are allowing seniors to bring their companion animals with them into assisted care and retirement homes.

Over the long term, research has shown that interacting with animals can help people decrease their cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.”

Many animal shelters also allow seniors to adopt pets at a reduced cost, and some also have “seniors for seniors” programs that specialize in matching older animals with older humans. Paws explained:8

Senior animals are often gentler, calmer companionship, and often are already trained … The quiet and doting home of a senior citizen is the perfect match for an older animal looking for a new home.”