Some couples are choosing to raise pets rather than children, and Pope Francis isn't happy about it.
During daily Mass on Monday, the pope counseled the 15 couples with him to not put aside having children in favor of an easier life.
“It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it?" Pope Francis said, according to Religion News Service.
The spiritual leader of more than 1 billion Catholics can say it's true at least in America, according to Quartz. Birth rates in the United States have fallen 10 percent since 2007, especially for women aged 15-29, who as a group are putting off marriage and childbearing, but still purchasing pets.
“Women are not only having fewer children, but are also getting married later. There are more single and unmarried women in their late 20s and early 30s, which also happens to be the demographic that buys the most small dogs,” Damien Shore, an analyst at market-research firm Euromonitor, told Quartz.
The economic consequences of low birth rates could be severe. “Around the world today we see many countries struggling with their fiscal situation largely because of the exploding cost of pensions and the relatively slow growth of their labor forces,” Phillip Longman, a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation, told NPR.
As to the reason for the shift, pets are possibly replacing children because they are becoming more and more important to their owners, who establish parental bonds with the animals. A survey by Pew Research Center found that 85 percent of dog owners in the United States consider the animal to be a part of the family, while 78 percent of cat owners feel similarly.
David Grimm, author of a "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs," explains that many people do use pets to replace human contact, since households used to consist of large extended families. Because of divorce and other factors, more people are living alone.
“There's a real emptiness in our homes that cats and dogs have filled,” Grimm told National Geographic. “This isn't fringe behavior to treat a pet like a member of the family. It's not the crazy cat lady or the crazy dog person. It's society.”
Pets may also be displacing children because of the economic cost. Deseret News reported in 2012 that the average annual cost of raising a dog ranged from $580-$875, depending on the size, while the average cost of having at cat is around $670.
Raising a child is a much more expensive endeavor. Think Progress reported that a child born in 2012 to “a middle-income, two-parent family” will cost his or her parents around $14,000 a year.
Pope Francis warned that if a married couple opted for the more comfortable path of pet-ownership rather than parenthood, “in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.
He reminded the listeners that “married life must be persevering,” and that difficult times bring couples closer as they overcome challenges together.
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.