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Pet Parenting in the United States: Investigating an Evolutionary Puzzle
Evolutionary Psychology  (IF1.506),  Pub Date : 2021-09-27, DOI: 10.1177/14747049211038297
Shelly Volsche

Fertility rates continue to decline globally amidst the second demographic transition, marked by urbanization, increased educational attainment, and most importantly, a new flexibility in life-course organization. As a result, some individuals are choosing to bring companion animals in the home rather than raising children. Purpose The purpose of this study is to explore whether these transitions result in differential companion animal attachment and caregiving behavior in the homes of parents (or those who desire to become parents) and nonparents or childfree “pet parents.” Methods A total of 917 respondents completed an online survey via Qualtrics that included demographic questions, the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS), and Likert-scale questions designed to probe direct and indirect caretaking behaviors. Results Nonparents reported more Generalized Attachment and more Affective Responsiveness to their companion animals, as well as increased investment in General Care. They also reported more People Substituting on the LAPS. Parents and nonparents reported similar agreement regarding Animal Rights/Welfare and Training and Play. Conclusion I conclude that nonparents' investment in companion animals much like parents invest in children, but in ways that meet species-specific needs. This supports the notion that nonparents may be nurturing companion animals as a trade-off to raising children, but not as a substitute. This is an evolutionarily novel application of parenting strategies in a new, flexible environment.