The Evolving Father

How fatherhood differs across cultures and through time

What’s Your Dog Dressing Up As On Halloween?

The rise in consumerism and decline in fertility help fuel investment in dogs.

A Halloween tradition has kids dress up as superheroes, princesses, or pirates, in the quest for tricks or treats. A newer pattern sees more and more pet dogs dressed up too. Maybe the pet dog is a hot dog, a dinosaur, a cheerleader. Google dog costumes and you’ll find a remarkable array of options.

What does that have to do with fatherhood?

The demographics of U.S. pet ownership indicate that parents with young kids are most likely to own a pet dog. However, those parents tend to feel less emotionally attached to that dog compared with other adults. Parents may acquire pet dogs because their children ask for them, also allowing children to develop some sense of responsibility for another creature. Young, childless couples or older empty nesters may be the most emotionally invested in a pet dog. Without a child around to tend to, what some call a fur baby can help fill that social gap.

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The average fertility in the U.S. is 2.1 kids. This is the highest fertility rate of any industrial country. Just north of the border, Canada’s fertility is 1.6 kids, and other countries at the low end of the fertility range include Greece, Germany, and Japan, with an average of 1.3 kids born per woman. Last summer, while teaching in Singapore, I informally polled about 100 students on their ideal fertility: the vast majority aspired to have two kids. The data in Singapore suggest they’re unlikely to meet that number. Average fertility in Singapore is around 1.3 kids.

It’s difficult to have many children. The time spent garnering an education that can make you competitive in a tough labor market washes away early adult years. The expense—from insurance to housing to travel—of having kids makes it challenging to afford many children. The importance of two incomes to maintain an accepted living standard stretches a couple’s time budget. Then combine that with a rampant consumerism—spending money on products to meet one’s needs, providing things a kid might want, representing one’s identity in the world of goods. According to the American Pet Products Association, over $50 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on pet products, an amount that has been rising quickly and has been recession-proof. It's estimated that Americans will spend about $375 million on pet Halloween costumes this year, a steep rise from about $300 million in 2011.

The result of all this might lead to more and more Halloween dog costumes. Young couples can practice their caregiving capacities with a pet dog before perhaps having a child. Empty nesters can enjoy a furry family member when their own children and grandchildren live elsewhere. As men and women have fewer and fewer kids, the pet industry will likely reap some of the benefits, and we’ll see more dogs in disguise on Halloween.

 

References:

Gray, PB and Young, SM. 2011. Human-pet dynamics in cross-cultural perspective. Anthrozoos 24: 17-30.

Herzog, H. 2010. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. New York: Harper.

United Nations. 2009. World Fertility Chart

Peter B. Gray, Ph.D., is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the coauthor of Fatherhood.

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