Walking around the edges of Central Park on a Sunday morning, it’s almost impossible not to people-watch. As the sun begins to reach its peak, the park populates with strollers pushed by cheery couples and single people all around. However, to my surprise, when I leaned in to take a look at one of the babies hiding underneath a fluffy stroller blanket, I found a head covered in fur.
It was a dog.
As the rate of young people planning to have children plummets, zoomers in New York City are replacing kids with pets and pets with plants. According to a 2022 survey, 1 in 4 Gen-Zers now aim to have a “dual income, no kids” household as the so-called “DINK” lifestyle circulates social media, influencing an entire movement pushing back against the traditional idea of domesticity.
“I am almost positive that I do not want children,” said Betsy Zalinski, a 19 year old student. “I just do not feel the urge to raise another human. Kids are also very expensive and I don’t think it is a decision to be made lightly.”
As a young, Gen-Z woman, Betsy isn’t alone in the changing attitude towards having kids. A 2022 project by RubyHome surveyed 1,024 Gen-Zers and included data collected by IPUMS-CPS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series Current Population Survey) conducted by the United States Census Bureau to discover more about the reasons behind the rising DINK phenomenon and dropping rate of planned reproduction. 98% of sampled Gen Zers claim “living a financially comfortable life” their top priority, while only 52% consider having kids any type of priority.
“In my late 30s, I want to be well-established in my career, wake up in a beautiful and expensive apartment or brownstone that I own with my partner,” said Betsy.
The project findings support this possibility, as they find “the median household income for DINKs is $138,035, compared to $103,005 for non-DINK households.”
While it’s an idea that has been around for decades, Generation Z gives it a name and rising numbers of admirers. Apart from a desire for financial independence, Gen-Z women are pushing back against societal norms that promote traditional domesticity.
“I want my independence, children can get in the way of that,” said Jillian Arena, a 20 year old student. “I think I like my freedom a little too much”.
In 2023, more and more young women seem to recognize the social pressure they have been under to someday become mothers. Now, they are beginning to treat domesticity as a choice rather than an obligation.
This sentiment is echoed in NYU sociology professor Kathleen Gerson’s published work, The Unfinished Revolution: how a new generation is reshaping family, work and gender in America.
“Three out of four [women interviewed] seek a level of independence they cannot find in domesticity,” Gerson stated, and findings agree.
With 27% of zoomers not wanting kids at all, young women feel slightly more comfortable declaring a desire for independence and freedom that does not necessarily include kids in their life plans.
“I’m not sure if the last bit of uncertainty with having kids is because I really don’t know or because it is so pushed on women that we must want to have kids that I feel uncomfortable completely closing that door,” said Betsy.
While the new generation is edging towards a future in which having or not having children is a choice open to all, young women still feel the weight of years of historic and generational pressure to conform.
Financial and general freedom aside, zoomers are a generation that claim to enjoy the flexibility that comes from the freedom of not having children. Findings show that 86% of Gen-Zers would rather enjoy a lifestyle of travel and flexibility than that of domestic responsibilities.
Betsy said, “kids are inconvenient in many ways; I want to travel and that becomes much more difficult once you have children. I honestly will likely end up with a cat.”
She isn’t alone in this wish. Jillian also agreed that she imagines her life with pets rather than children.
Psychology professor Lawrence Reed, however, suggests this in it itself a position of privilege.
“Those in lower income communities already have kids,” Reed said, suggesting that the surveyed demographic being made up mostly of college students isn’t representative of a larger population.
“Maybe this is just something that’s come up among affluent people,” Reed said, “maybe it doesn’t generalize to the whole generation”.
It is possible that DINK household statistics only hold up amongst those who have the choice.
“Only about 30% of people go to college,” Reed said, and disagreed that this is a phenomenon that’s swooped up an entire generation and it is rather a stance of privilege.
Still, the idea of DINK households and their popularity is fairly under-researched. The small samples that are surveyed, however, seem to suggest an increase in a desire for financial independence, and a general flexible lifestyle that zoomers don’t find in traditional family structures.
“Some day when I’m in my 30s, I can imagine evenings of going to a friend’s house to spoil their kids, then going home to my own, quiet house and just spending time with my partner,” said Betsy.