Can dogs function as a substitute for children? Today, one in five women in the U.S. will never give birth to a child or take care of one in the form of adopted children or step children. In the 1970s, this was one in ten women. The numbers show that although some married couples are child-free due to health issues, more of them are now choosing to go child-free by choice.
Still seen as an unusual decision and a taboo, child-free couples are a point of discussion for many. Critics argue that the purpose of life is to bring new life into the world and that child-free couples are not contributing to society by valuing their freedom over reproduction. Often labeled as selfish, child-free couples look at it from a different perspective. Sara Tenenbein, 31 years old, says, “My husband and I chose to not have children because we think we should not add more people to the world. Besides, we are very happy with the two of us. It is great.” Tenenbein is not the only one who thinks the world does not need more people. Overpopulation and pollution are the main reasons the child-free give to justify their decision to the outer world and with an average cost of $250,000 per child until the age of 18, there are cheaper options on the market.
The number of couples, who chose to have a dog, tripled since the 1970s and with an average annual cost of $231 per year, this might convince couples to having dogs as a substitute for children. Experts say dogs are a great way for married couples to expand their family, albeit in a less traditional way. Couples are able to experience the caring part and it is believed that owning dogs have numerous health benefits. Jenn Savedge, expert in raising eco-friendly children, as she describes it herself, says, “The health benefits of having dogs are tremendous. Regular dog walking improves fitness levels, lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Studies have also shown that dog owners recover faster from stress, depression and illnesses compared to their counterparts without a dog. The love and companionship of a dog really helps human beings in many ways.”
According to Laura Scott, director of the Childless by Choice Project, says the costs and health benefits are not the only aspects that got married couples thinking twice about having children. “Parenthood after marriage was a default 30 or 40 years ago. In a way, it still is. Married couples are simply resisting the default steps that society thinks they should take in life,” she explains. In addition, Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center of Family and Marriage Research, says, “It might be a good sign that more married couples choose to be child-free. It means the meaning of marriage is evolving.”
Linda McGrath Cruz is a 36-year-old married woman. Years ago, she and her husband decided that children were not for them. Instead, they now take care of three dogs. She says, “I have been confronted by women who insist that I cannot live a fulfilling life without the experience of raising children. I know my dogs cannot be treated as a substitute for children. They are not supposed to be, but they enrich our lives in many ways and we try to do the same for them.”
By Diana Herst