Why does Seattle have so few kids and so many dogs?

Photo by Jennifer Wing

By Jennifer Wing

Here’s an odd fact: Seattle’s dog population is estimated to be around 140,000 and climbing. The number of kids? … 93,000 and dropping.

Seattle’s not such a bad place to raise kids, but based on the 2010 census, roughly 15 percent of our population is 18 or younger. And, when you compare Seattle to Boston, New York City or Chicago our share of little ones looks pretty paltry.

In fact, Seattle is neck and neck with San Francisco, which has the lowest population of children of all major U.S. cities.

So where did all of Seattle’s kids go?

Don’t worry ­­– they aren’t very far away. Just go south to Tacoma, or Federal Way, head north to Shoreline or Edmonds, look across the lake to Bellevue.

Demographers predict Seattle’s share of kids will continue to drop even as the overall population of the city is growing. The people moving in are young and most likely work in the city’s growing tech and biotech fields.

And … these folks also have a fondness for dogs. Just look at Amazon’s headquarters in South Lake Union. There is no onsite childcare, but dogs are more than welcome. Hundreds roam the halls, play tug of war and sleep under desks, but more on dogs later.


Costly zip codes

The high cost of housing and childcare are two huge factors pushing families out of Seattle and into the surrounding communities.

Ann Ishimaru, a professor at the University of Washington and the mother of two with one on the way, is learning first hand how expensive Seattle can be for families.

“One of the slightly less expensive (childcare businesses) is $1,400 a month. You double that for two kids, and it’s like buying multiple houses.”

The family is also hunting for a home close to their daughter’s school. They’re searching for a very basic, three-bedroom house with a small yard for under $650,000. It’s a tight market, and they’ve been outbid at least once. They did not expect these hurdles when they moved to the Northwest from Boston.

“I really thought it was going to be much more affordable, much more relaxed. But it isn’t.”


Enter the dogs

In Seattle, you can go just about anywhere with your dog. There are dog friendly hotels, coffee shops with dog treats and water waiting to refresh your pooch. There is also a very healthy pet service industry in Seattle: doggie bakeries, boutiques, daycares and grooming facilities aplenty.

Kinley Pearsall works in public relations at Amazon and brings her dog Ellie to work almost every day.

“I have a little baby gate so she stays near my desk,” she said. “If I run out of treats there are dog treats in the vending machine. It helps to have co-workers who love dogs as much as you.”

Erwin Arceo, the co-owner of The Belltown Pub in the Seattle neighborhood of the same name saw this trend start to play out in his restaurant.

“The back room would be rented out for a birthday party, and I’d ask who the party was for and they’d tell me ‘Fifi and Fido.’ Seriously? A birthday party for a dog?”

But when Arceo started to bring his boxer, Bella, to work, regular patrons started asking if they could bring their animals, too.


Perhaps a human child, later

Today the Belltown Pub has a dog-friendly menu featuring such mouthwatering items (in kibble form of course) as organic venison and free-range chicken with sweet potatoes. There’s even a low-carb turkey dish for canines looking to lose a few pounds.

Sitting in one of the restaurant’s booths, Michelle Kelson sips a drink and talks about the apple of her eye as she cradles him in her arms. His name is Tucker. He’s a chestnut brown and white King Cavalier. Think cocker spaniel but smaller.

“For once in my life I have to stop and think of responsibilities outside of myself. Coming home to feed Tucker, walk Tucker. I don’t work as much overtime on the weekends anymore, because I want to spend more time with him.”

Kelson’s husband, Bijorn, shares that they are thinking about having another baby in the near future, a human this time.


Turnaround not expected

Richard Morrill, a retired geography professor at UW, who is still very active in his field, says there are four main reasons why Seattle’s population of children will continue to drop:

  • Money: The high cost of real estate.
  • Sexual Orientation: Seattle has an unusually large number of gay and lesbian couples who tend to not have too many children.
  • Density: Families don’t want to live in apartments and townhouses.
  • Education: Seattle has a highly educated population. According to Morrill, people who hold college degrees don’t have as many kids.

If you are interested in looking at how many children your city or town has, check out the 2010 census website.