Australians love pets and our favourite pets are definitely dogs.
The annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey of 17,000 Australians, has, for the first time, asked about pets.
The survey found almost two-thirds of us have at least one pet.
Knowing who owns pets and what sort of animals they have helps researchers understand things like how having a pet affects wellbeing, which is measured by life satisfaction, mental health and general health.
HILDA researcher Dr Ferdi Botha from the University of Melbourne said lots of Australians have pets.
“The results show that pet ownership in Australia is quite high, with almost 62 per cent of people owning at least one pet,” Dr Botha said.
This is similar to pet ownership in the US (65 per cent) but higher than the UK (41 per cent). Pet ownership is higher in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil than in Australia.
Dogs are the most common pets. Almost 72 per cent of pet-owning people – which is 48 per cent of all Australians – have a dog.
Cats are the next most popular pet, with approximately 37 per cent of pet-owning people having a cat.
The next most popular pets are fish (18 per cent) and birds (16 per cent), with 3.6 per cent of pet owners having a horse. Seventeen per cent have some other type of pet.
A person may own more than one type of pet.
“We do know that approximately 59 per cent of pet owners have only one type of pet, while 24 per cent have two types of pets and 17 per cent have three or more pet types,” Dr Botha said.
Age: Pet ownership was more common among people aged under 65. The older age groups have a relatively high proportion of cat owners compared to dog owners.
“These results probably have a lot to do with life stage,” Dr Botha said. “Older people are possibly less likely to want to maintain an active dog as a pet.”
Kids: People with pets are slightly more likely to have children. Among people with pets, about 46 per cent have children, whereas 40 per cent of non-pet owning people have children.
Housing: 90 per cent of pet owners live in detached houses. The proportion of cats is larger for people in a flat who have less space than most dogs need.
Location: Pet ownership is more common in our most populous states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
HILDA survey respondents were also asked to self-report their wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Participants were asked, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life overall?”. Responses can range from 0 to 10: the higher this score, the more satisfied a person is with his or her life as a whole.
“We found no differences in life satisfaction or the likelihood of being in poor general health between pet owners and non-pet owners, Dr Botha said.
“However, somewhat surprisingly, we did find that pet owners are 2.6 percentage points more likely to report being in poor mental health than people who don’t own a pet.”
Compared to people with a dog (but no cat), those with cats (but no dog) are about 0.1 points (on the 0-10 scale) less satisfied with life.
Also, people who own a dog and a cat report about 0.9 points lower life satisfaction relative* to those with a dog but no cat.
They are also 1.8 and 3.2 percentage points more likely to report poor general health and poor mental health, respectively, relative to people with only a dog (but no cat).
Overall these associations suggest that cat owners – particularly those who also own a dog – may have somewhat lower wellbeing than other pet owners. Dr Botha pointed out that the results don’t mean that having a cat causes lower wellbeing.
University of Melbourne psychologist Dr Luke Smillie suggested that one possibility is that people who experience lower wellbeing seek out a feline* housemate for companionship, but added that this wouldn’t explain why we don’t see the same for dogs, or other kinds of pets.
“Another possibility, owing to the strong overlap between personality and wellbeing, is that this finding reflects the personalities of cat owners,” Dr Smillie said.
Other studies show that cat owners tend to be quieter and more reserved* compared to dog owners.
Dr Smillie explained that the findings may be more of a reflection on what the typical cat owner is like as a person, rather than any causes or effects of having a cat.
“Importantly, being a few points lower than average on measures of wellbeing doesn’t mean that one is miserable,” he added.
“A broadly happy and satisfied life allows for a range of emotional intensities, from the most buzzing dog owner to the most chilled cat owner.”
This is an edited version of a story first published on pursuit.unimelb.edu.au
- relative: as compared to
- feline: to do with cats
- reserved: held back, not over the top
- What is HILDA? What was different about it this year?
- How many people took part?
- List four types of pets mentioned.
- Did the survey find any difference in life satisfaction between pet owners and people without pets?
- What sort of expert is Luke Smillie?
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1. Dog v Cat Owners
Work with a partner and compile a list of personality traits of a dog owner versus that of a cat owner. Organise your answers into a two-column table. You can get some of these traits from the research found in the HILDA survey and then you can add your own assumptions to the list if you are willing to give your reasons.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social
Survey your classmates to work out the percentage of people who own a cat, dog or other type of pet in your class. Tally your results and represent the information in a column graph to show your class.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.