Pet Dogs Benefit Owners’ Health: A ‘Natural Experiment’ in China

Abstract

This paper reports results from a ‘natural experiment’ taking place in China on the impact of dogs on owners’ health. Previous Western research has reported modest health benefits, but results have remained controversial. In China pets were banned in urban areas until 1992. Since then dog ownership has grown quite rapidly in the major cities, especially among younger women. In these quasi-experimental conditions, we hypothesise that dog ownership will show greater health benefits than in the West. Results are given from a survey of women aged 25–40 in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (N = 3031). Half the respondents owned dogs and half did not. Owners reported better health-related outcomes. They exercised more frequently, slept better, had higher self-reported fitness and health, took fewer days off sick from work and were seen less by doctors. The concluding section indicates how these results may be integrated and suggests further research on the potential economic benefits of pets.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    All results were net of gender, age, income and self-assessed health status in 1996.

  2. 2.

    It should be noted that this exercise question did not refer to walking the dog and was asked before pet-specific questions were raised.

  3. 3.

    For example, point 3 on the scale was ‘exercises 1–2 times each week’. A mid-point of 1.5 was interpolated.

  4. 4.

    As for the exercise question, frequencies were interpolated at scale mid-points for these two questions.

  5. 5.

    A negative binomial is one specific type of Poisson distribution.

  6. 6.

    Individual income correlated more highly with health outcomes than household income. It was measured in 12 bands; the mid-point of each band was interpolated.

  7. 7.

    The coefficients from the ordered probits cannot be given any straightforward interpretation beyond noting their sign and level of significance (Greene 2000, pp. 877–878).

  8. 8.

    Being an agricultural worker is strongly negatively related to exercise, and having a health disability is, not surprisingly, strongly negatively related to fitness and health.

  9. 9.

    Including Chinese rural people is not a sensible option at present, given that dogs in rural areas are not generally viewed as pets.

  10. 10.

    Some tentative estimates have been made for Australia and Germany based on fewer annual doctor visits by pet owners compared to non-owners (Headey 1999; Headey et al. 2002).

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Correspondence to Bruce Headey.

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Headey, B., Na, F. & Zheng, R. Pet Dogs Benefit Owners’ Health: A ‘Natural Experiment’ in China. Soc Indic Res 87, 481–493 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-007-9142-2

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Keywords

  • Pets
  • Health
  • China
  • Natural experiment