The real title of this article should really be “Why do Americans like their pets so differently from other cultures?” Well I’m sure that no culture has a monopoly on loving pets. The truth is you just have to pay attention to people’s behavior.
You just have to pay less attention to what they say and the sounds that they make with their mouth and focus more on what they actually do. In other words, it’s all about dollars and cents. And when it comes to spending money on pets, it’s very hard to beat Americans.
Collectively, Americans spend billions of dollars on many different categories of pet food, pet related items, pet care, pet-related entertainment merchandise, you name it. In fact, the whole pet related industry in the United States is worth billions upon billions of dollars and it actually has a very robust growth rate. It shows no signs of slowing down.
It seems that Americans in all 50 states simply love their pets and are willing to pay top dollar for such affection. A lot of this stems from the fact that Americans view pets as members of the family. Also, more and more Americans are deferring child bearing or choosing to go child-free.
The idea of treating an animal as a member of a family
You have to understand that this idea of treating an animal, whether it’s a mammal or a lizard or a bird or even fish, as members of your family is actually quite recent. If we’re looking at some society wide type of trend, this is a fairly new thing.
Generally speaking, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, and Europe until very recently, animals were viewed and valued primarily based on their utility. In other words, human beings have always been asking themselves, as far as animals are concerned, “What can you do for me?”
Now, things have changed dramatically in modern times. A lot of this has to do with disposable income. People don’t have to eat animals. People can afford to spend extra income on their pets. Accordingly, this increase in disposable income has lead to changes in attitudes regarding pets.
A lot of it has to do with the evolution of the nuclear family
Starting in the 1950’s, more and more Americans have defined the traditional American family as involving a father, a mother and 2 children. This has been the standard view of the traditional American family.
Guess who else makes it to the picture. That’s right! Pets! Since these families are moving away from extended families, these are older family units involving larger households. In the 1800’s, they typical American household included not just the father, the mother and the children, but also grandfathers, uncles, even grand uncles.
It was a very big kind of organization. It kind of reminds people of the typical large Italian family. Well, a lot of that has to do with the fact that America’s economy was oriented a certain way. It was mostly an agrarian farm based economy.
In that context, you need larger families for extra man power as well as the fact that a large chunk of the children that you’re going to have are probably going to die. Please remember that this was way before the discovery of penicillin and antibiotics.
Given these factors, the transition to the nuclear family created some sort of disconnect. People still needed bonding. If mom and dad are away at work, what are the kids going to do? This is where family pets come in.
Whether we’re talking about dogs or cats or some other variation. There has to be some sort of outlet for that bonding affection. This leads to a redefinition of who is a member of your family. Americans have grown accustomed and comfortable with the idea that animals can be members of their family.
Some lingering issues
If you’re still asking yourself, “Why do Americans spend so much money on their pets?” Well, there are certain lingering issues. While it’s great that they’re spending a lot of money in putting their money where their mouths are, there are other issues to take care of.
The main issue being pets are short lived. The typical dog can live, on average, 12 years. Larger breeds tend to die earlier. The same applies with cats. They’re all bound by a fairly short lifespan. And since the typical American can expect to live until their late 70’s or even early 80’s, there’s this big disconnect.
It is no surprise that a lot of Americans basically cycle through many generations of pets. Either they let their pet breed so they can have different generations of the same pet, or they simply just buy a new set of pets after the previous set has died.
This has lead to some sort of emotional disconnect. You have to understand that you treat your pet as a member of your family. There is that strong emotional bond. That’s not going to go away. When your pet dies, do you simply just cast off that emotional bond or try to get over the pain by getting another pet?
As the old saying goes, “The best way to get rid of the pain of being dumped by an ex girlfriend or being left by a past relationship is a new relationship.” Well, that’s going to be a problem because this series of strong emotional bonds between owners and pets is going through some testing.
Also, given the changes currently going on in the greater American society, it shouldn’t be a surprise if there is also a change in how Americans view their pets. It is really going to be an interesting transition indeed.
Still, given the market dynamics as well as how marketing has evolved in the pet space, don’t expect any profound changes as far as American consumer patterns go when it comes to their four legged companions. We’ll always have a special place in our hearts for the critters near and dear to us.