Whether millennials prefer raising plants and pets over children for financial and environmental reasons or because they are lazy and entitled has been hotly debated in recent years. Now Pope Francis has stepped in, saying not having children is “selfish and makes us smaller” and people are replacing them with cats and dogs.
Pet owners have reacted angrily to the comments made during a general audience at the Vatican. They argue that animals have a smaller carbon footprint than children, enabling them to live different but equally rewarding lives, and compensating for financial or biological difficulties in having children, rather than directly replacing them.
On social media, people pointed out that the Pope chose himself not having children and said there was hypocrisy in such comments, coming from an institution dealing with a legacy of child sexual abuse.
Guardian readers who responded to a call for their opinion were also critical of the pope’s comments, which were labeled “out of touch” and “sexist”.
Sophie Lusby, a 48-year-old NHS manager in Belfast, said they were “really naive and insensitive” and failed to consider that not everyone can or should have children. As a Catholic, she struggled with embarrassment about not being able to have children for medical reasons, given the emphasis her religion places on motherhood. “That’s what’s quite triggering about the Pope’s words.”
She added that although she has two pets, which “are great companions when you live alone,” she doesn’t see them as a substitute for children, but has instead found meaning in her relationships with her cousins, siblings. and parents. “If Catholicism is about family, I’ve been very successful at being a great family member and I don’t need to be told.”
Estee Nagy, a 27-year-old London jeweler, said that “having a child in today’s world is a luxury” due to lower incomes and a more challenging job market. “It’s easier for those who are just lucky and rich or have more money than the average salary, but it gets harder when there isn’t enough.”
Stef, who works in education, said that in her hometown of Brighton “a lot of people have dogs and treat them like children”. She has taken her rescue dog Boss on vacation to 11 countries, including the Vatican, and feels he is “part of the family”.
“I don’t think anyone decides to have a dog instead of a child. You have a dog and you take care of the dog and it becomes like a child.”
People’s feelings about their pets can reflect the immense psychological benefits of owning pets, especially cats and dogs, said Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University, Belfast. Studies have shown that it results in increased companionship, feelings of self-esteem and self-esteem and reduced depression, loneliness and isolation.
Wells added that there was no evidence that people used pets as a substitute for children, but the analogy applies in the sense that they are also dependents that need to be looked after, and that many owners develop “a huge attachment bond.” .
Instead, the Pope’s comments likely reflect the fact that birth rates in Europe have fallen over the past seven decades, especially in traditionally Catholic countries in the south, where there is a lack of government support for childcare, gender roles are more entrenched and youth unemployment is rising. high. While only 10% of European women born in the 1950s were childless, that rose to 15% for women born in the 1970s. Demographers predict that the proportion will increase for women born from the 1980s, albeit not in such a fast pace.
The reasons for declining birth rates are much more complicated than personal choice. Francesca Fiori, a demographer at the University of St Andrews, said there is precarious work, expensive housing, economic insecurity and a lack of affordable childcare and flexible work arrangements. She added that decision-makers would be better off focusing on tackling these issues rather than blaming people.
Bernice Kuang, a fertility trend researcher at the University of Southampton, said the Pope’s intervention may also be premature, as evidence suggests that people born in the 1980s and 1990s do not choose not to have children. but delay childbirth, often well into their thirties, although she noted that the climate crisis is increasingly arguing against child rearing for these generations. “It’s not that people’s desire to start a family has diminished, the conditions are terrible for young people.”
Kuang added that while European societies may be concerned about fertility rates given their aging populations, and the impact this could have on pensions, health care and the workforce, these could be resolved through immigration, as there are no problems with population substitution in the area. global level.