In recent years it has been hotly debated whether millennials prefer to raise plants and pets over children for financial and environmental reasons or because they are lazy and entitled. Now Pope Francis has entered the scene, saying that not having children is “selfish and looks down on us” and that 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 environmental footprint than children, allow them to lead different but equally rewarding lives, and compensate for financial or biological difficulties in bearing children, rather than directly replacing them.
On social media, people pointed out that the Pope himself chose not having children and said there was hypocrisy in such comments, coming from an institution that has grappled with a legacy of child sexual abuse.
Readers of The Guardian who responded to a call asking for their views were equally 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 callous” and failed to reflect that not everyone can or should have children. As a Catholic, she has struggled with feelings of shame over her inability to have children for medical reasons, given her religion’s emphasis on motherhood. “That is quite the trigger for the Pope’s words.”
He added that although he has two pets, which are “great company when you live alone,” he does not see them as substitutes for children, but has found meaning in his relationships with his nephews, nieces, siblings and parents. . “If Catholicism is about family, I have been very successful in being a great member of the family and I don’t need to be scolded.”
Estee Nagy, a 27-year-old jeweler from London, said that “having a child in today’s world is a luxury” due to lower purchasing power 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 becomes more difficult when there is not enough.”
Stef, who works in education, said that in his hometown of Brighton “a lot of people have dogs and treat them like children.” He has taken his 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 a pet, especially cats and dogs, said Deborah Wells, a psychologist at Queen’s University, Belfast. Studies have shown that it results in greater companionship, feelings of self-worth and self-worth, and a reduction in depression, loneliness, and isolation.
Wells added that there was no evidence that people were using pets as replacements for children, but rather that the analogy applies in the sense that they are also dependents who need to be cared for, and many owners develop “a huge bond of attachment.”
Instead, the pope’s comments likely reflect the fact that birth rates have been declining in Europe for the past seven decades, especially in traditionally Catholic southern countries, where there is a lack of government support for childcare. , gender roles are more entrenched and youth unemployment is higher. 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 1970s. 1980s onwards, although not at such a high rate.
The reasons for falling birth rates are much more complicated than personal decisions. Francesca Fiori, a demographer at the University of St Andrews, said they include precarious employment, expensive housing, economic uncertainty and a lack of affordable child care and flexible work arrangements. He added that it would be better for decision makers to focus on addressing these issues rather than blaming people.
Bernice Kuang, a researcher on fertility trends at the University of Southampton, said the pope’s intervention may also be premature given that evidence suggests that people born in the 1980s and 1990s do not choose not to have children, but rather delay childbearing. delivery, often well into the date. 30 years, although he pointed out that the climate crisis is increasingly an argument against parenting for these generations. “It is not that the desire of human beings to have a family has collapsed, the circumstances are dire 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 can be resolved through immigration, as that there are no problems with the replacement of the population worldwide.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism