Young Americans are less likely to be homeowners, car owners or parents than their predecessors, but they do lead in one category: Pets.
Three-fourths of Americans in their 30s have dogs, while 51 per cent have cats, according to a survey released by research firm Mintel. That compares to 50 per cent of the overall population with dogs, and 35 per cent with cats.
The findings come at a time when millennials, roughly defined as the generation born between 1980 and 2000, are half as likely to be married or living with a partner than people were 50 years ago. They are also delaying parenthood and demanding flexible work arrangements - all of which, researchers say, has translated to higher rates of pet ownership.
"Pets are becoming a replacement for children," said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me. "They're less expensive. You can get one even if you're not ready to live with someone or get married, and they can still provide companionship."
Millennial men, it turns out, are more likely to look for companionship in pets. Among those surveyed, 71 per cent of men between ages 18 and 34 had dogs (versus 62 per cent of women), while 48 per cent had cats (versus 35 per cent of women).
"Men are more willing to put in the time and effort of taking care of a pet," said Rebecca Cullen, an analyst at Mintel. "Women are more likely to feel they are away from home too much and that pets require too much work."
All of this is has big implications for the US$63 billion pet industry, which has grown three-fold since 1996.
Last year Americans spent US$11 billion on pet-pampering alone. One-third of owners said they bought toys for their pets, while 17 per cent bought pet costumes and 10 per cent shelled out for pet strollers, according to Mintel, which surveyed 2001 adults for its findings.
Pets are becoming a replacement for children
"When you're preparing for your first child, you're reading all the books, doing all the research," said Nathan Richter, 36, a partner at Wakefield Research, a market research firm in Arlington. "That's how millennials are approaching pet ownership."
A majority of millennials - 76 per cent - said they are more likely to "splurge" on their pets than for themselves, including for expensive treats (44 per cent) or a custom bed (38 per cent), according to a 2014 study by Wakefield Research. By comparison, 50 per cent of Baby Boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - said they would do so.
Millenials were also twice as likely than Baby Boomers to buy clothing for their pets, a phenomenon Richter chalks up to the prevalence of social media.
"The clothing is, for them, an opportunity for performance - they put it on their dog or cat, take them for a walk, post a picture on Facebook," Richter said. "It's increasingly about getting a digital stamp of approval."