The number of couples and single adults who are choosing not to have children is increasing throughout many nations in the industrialized world. Childlessness is steadily becoming more widespread, particularly in English-speaking countries as well as Japan and much of Europe. In the last 20 years, the number of childless women in many countries has nearly doubled.
In Japan, the country’s birth rate has fallen to just 1.39 children per woman, approaching half of the American birth rate of 1.93 children per woman in 2010. Figures from the Japanese government estimate that the low birth rate will have the effect of lowering that nation’s population from 128 million to just 43 million within the next fifty years. The falling birthrate in Japan has been blamed primarily on shifting attitudes toward sex and economic problems, but just because so many Japanese are now childless doesn’t mean the situation has negated the basic human need for love and companionship, as an increasing number of childless couples and single adults are now filling the void in their lives with pets.
While Japan’s birthrate may be dropping, the pet population there is expanding. It appears that since Japanese couples and single adults don’t have children to raise, they are instead lavishing their attention on their animals, and treating the pets as if they were kids. It is not uncommon for Japanese single women to carry small pets with them everywhere they go and pamper them with everything from spa treatments to designer clothing. The trend has been great for the pet industry in a nation where 22 million pets outnumber the country’s 17 million children under age 15. In the dense urban areas like Tokyo where most people live in small apartments, small dogs like miniature dachshunds, poodles, and Chihuahuas are very popular, and nearly all dogs and cats are treated like family members.
Childless Japanese spend so much on their pets now that the country’s pet industry is estimated to be worth nearly $18 billion per year. About half of the money is spent on pet food, but the rest is spent pampering their pets. The Japanese pet owners now regularly buy expensive dog clothing with designer labels like Chanel, Dior, and Gucci, and take them to restaurants that allow pets to sit at the table with their owners where they eat organic meals together. There are yoga classes for dogs and hot-spring resorts where the pets can get swimming lessons, bubble baths, and massages. The obsession doesn’t end when the pets die either, as it can cost $8,000 for a deluxe Buddhist funeral and cremation. What childless Japanese couples and singles may lack in terms of family, they are surely making up for with their devotion to their pets.