Dog? Baby? Dog? Baby?…………Dog

In the first year of Covid (are we going to give this year a name like AD or BC?) the number of births recorded in the UK fell by 4% to a record low. The fertility rate stood at 1.58 births per woman. The natural population replacement rate would be 2.1; that’s the figure required to maintain the same population excluding net immigration. So that’s a whopping decline in fertility, with some major implications for the UK’s age profile.

In that same year, the number of UK households owning a dog jumped (down boy) from 23% to 33%.


There is a theory, gaining in popularity, that the world has turned so ugly that that more and more people are simply choosing not to bring children into it. Or, as John Elledge wrote in the New Statesman:

The mystery isn’t why the birth rate is falling – it’s why anyone has kids at all

He notes that that this is also the first time a majority of women remained childless by their 30th birthday. According to Elledge, we’re not having kids because that requires economic security, and we haven’t had that for a generation. Instead the economy has lurched from crisis to crisis.

Having a child requires both money and stability, and for more than a decade now the entire world seems to have been conspiring to deny the under-40s either. Since 2007 this country and its economy has rolled from crisis to crisis: the crash, the recession, austerity, the next recession brought about by austerity, Brexit, the pandemic, another recession (a really big one this time), and now if we’re very lucky maybe we won’t have war in Europe but quite possibly we will. Anyone under 35 has never known the good times.

Others point to climate change and the failure of humankind to create a sustainable ecology for future generations. If our grandchildren are going to inherit a dying planet, maybe we’re irresponsible to have children at all.

Then again I’ve heard commentators citing the way the western world has turned away from the prevailing liberal tradition, electing a succession of despots, fanatics and bigots as our leaders. Corruption, nepotism, cronyism and extreme inequality look set to become the norm. It’s only a matter of time, they say, until we’re back to the law of the jungle. Do you want that for your kids?

You can see why playing happy families may not be top of the agenda for lots of folks right now.

Instead, it appears, they are getting a dog.

Of course, I’m just messing with you. This is one of those classic statistical quirks, that we love to over-analyse and turn into a spurious conclusion.

In truth, fertility rates have been declining steadily for decades. The UK rate fell in all of the last 5 years and has declined by 16% since 2012.

Incidentally that’s also why immigration is so essential to maintain a sustainable dependancy ratio, but le’s not go into that right now.

The jump in dog ownership is a short term spike. Between 2012 and 2019, dog ownership was pretty steady around 9 million. In 2019 it leapt to 12.5 million. It seems reasonable to conclude this is a Covid effect.

This doesn’t mean the world isn’t a terrible place, or that bringing babies into it isn’t foolhardy.

Or that getting a dog isn’t the answer.

We’ll just have to work that out for ourselves.