According to new market data, nearly one in 10 single women in the Seattle area lives alone with at least one cat — if that really counts as living alone.
As a 40-something single woman living alone with a cat, Jeanine Foucher is well aware of the negative stereotypes conjured up by that particular coexistence: a frumpy homebody without many friends — a spinster, even — the cliché of the “cat lady.”
“No, I don’t have framed photos of my cat around my apartment,” she laughs. “I’m more a dog person really … but somehow or other, I’ve wound up with cats.”
Foucher, a busy development and philanthropy professional, shares her Central District apartment with Nick, a neighborhood stray she adopted about five years ago. She had two cats at that point, but the other, Cleo, died a couple of years later.
If Foucher doesn’t pay much mind to the cat-lady stereotype, perhaps it’s because she bears no resemblance to it. For Foucher, an outgoing native New Yorker, weekends are booked with friends and urban activities. She’s also something of an exercise junkie — yoga, cycling, running and hiking.
And maybe it’s also because here in Seattle, there are so many women like her.
According to new market data from Nielsen Scarborough, nearly one in 10 single women in the Greater Seattle area lives alone with at least one cat — if that really counts as living alone. In the city itself, the numbers are even higher: one in eight.
That ranks Seattle second among the 50 largest U.S. market areas. We were just barely edged out of the top spot by — where else? — Portland.
The data reveal a kernel of truth behind one aspect of the cat-lady stereotype: Women are much more likely to have a pet cat than are men. Nationally, single-person cat households skew nearly 2-to-1 in favor of women, and that pattern holds true for Seattle.
Nielsen Scarborough surveyed 400,696 respondents nationwide — including 4,582 in King and Snohomish counties — on a wide range of lifestyle and consumer behaviors. The surveys were conducted between February 2013 and March 2015.
The appeal of cats to women, and the association of the feline with the feminine, is nothing new. Its roots go back to the mythologies of ancient Egypt and Greece. I spoke about it with Clea Simon, who’s written a book on the subject: “The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats.”
“It’s partly that society has seen women and cats together, and that’s a self-definition that we’ve picked up and that we like,” she says.
Simon points out that there are many more single women living in cities these days — in Seattle, more than 60,000 women live alone — and cats are the perfect urban pet. They do well in small spaces, and if a woman works long hours, she doesn’t have to worry about running home to walk the cat. “Having a dog is probably closer to having a child — there’s that level of care. Having a cat is like having an interesting roommate from another culture,” Simon tells me.
And she suggests that perhaps there’s also something on a deeper, more psychological level.
“Cats accept affection when they want it, but also have very clear boundaries. Women admire that. A lot of men might not get it, but setting boundaries can be an issue for us — society encourages women not to. I can’t tell you how many women have said to me: ‘I wish I could be more like my cat.’ ”
What’s harder to explain is why the percentage of women living with cats is so high here in the Pacific Northwest. I asked Foucher if she had any thoughts on it.
“I don’t know, but it seems like people out here are just really into cats in general — at least compared to back in New York.”
And the data support her hunch. According to Nielsen Scarborough, a Seattle-area household is almost twice as likely to contain a cat than one in the New York City area.