It seems to be a battle of babies versus pets in this week’s papers. The Times featured a story about the rising number of wealthy Big Apple families deciding to have three or more children. While the New York Post had a story about the number of city dwellers who seem to be substituting dogs for children. The two narratives don’t necessarily contradict each other. It’s possible that the number of dogs and children are both on the rise. But one of these stories is clearly the more representative trend.
According to the first article, a higher quality of life in the city (especially a drop in crime) seems to have some couples rethinking whether they need to move to the suburbs when they have a larger family.
Across all income groups of white non-Hispanics across the five boroughs, those earning from $200,000 to $399,000 have had the largest increase in those with three children: 21 percent in 2011, up from 15 percent in 2000, an increase of nearly half.
Despite real percentage increases, the numbers here are still quite small. If you want to understand the level of affluence you have to achieve before you consider indulging in the “luxury” of having a third child in New York City, consider this description:
Erica Held, 32, the founder of Lil Yogi’s NYC, a children’s yoga studio, is another parent who has decided to raise children in the city, in her case in that rare beast: a 2,900-square-foot, four-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. “Yes, we could have more space in the suburbs, but New York City is really conducive to our work because my husband and I both run our own businesses,” said Ms. Held, the mother of three boys, with a fourth child, a girl, due this month.
To be able to afford 2,900 square feet on the Upper West Side, where the median list price per square foot is more than $1500, puts you in such a tiny minority that it’s almost not worth noticing demographically.
So what about the dogs?
Federal data . . . show that over the past seven years, the number of live births per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 29 in America has plunged 9 percent. At the same time, research by the American Pet Products Association shows the number of small dogs — under 25 pounds — in the United States has skyrocketed, from 34. 1 million in 2008 to 40.8 million in 2012.
On this trend, New Yorkers may be ahead of the curve but the rest of the country isn’t far behind. More and more women are getting married later or not getting married at all. Meanwhile the fertility rate in America continues to plummet. Even immigrants, whose fertility rates have typically been higher than native-born Americans are falling fast. Children are increasingly seen as an option to be put off for decades, if not indefinitely. As one woman interviewed by the Post explained,
“Dogs are better! Look at Toliver! He’s great, except he snores a lot. He even has his own Instagram. . . . A dog is easier to transport than a child. It’s less final than having a child.”
Sadly, for those concerned about the strength of America’s economy and its families, Toliver’s owner is more representative of the rest of the country than Ms. Held.