I have been thinking about how I have this perception of rats as being kid pets. You don't think of grown people as having pet rats, really, unless they are the sort of person with characteristics that make them seem not quite fully adult. Before we ended up having rats ourselves, the person I had most recently encountered having rats fit this stereotype. This guy with rats had a dark room with shelves full of board games and card games, and his house had fantasy art (like, D&D style) on the walls.
I think the thing about pet rats is this: they are a non-committal sort of pet. A convenience pet. A trainer pet. A pet that is not a burden, because rats don't live very long. You are making a 2 or 3 year commitment when you get a pet rat. A cat or a dog will probably be around for 10, maybe 15 years. I know that this is at least one reason we got rats -- because one member of this two-person household said that he did not want to rush into making a decision that would last 10 or 15 years.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about this idea of investing in things (in a non-monetary context) -- primarily relationships, but also things like work and leisure activities. I have also been considering the notion of "You get what you pay for." I think the principle applies to rats as pets. I think that the short-term commitment / minimal investment involved probably reaps proportional rewards. Rats don't ask for much, but they probably don't give a lot back either. Although I like our rats and appreciate that they display sociability and intelligence, I don't think the emotional rewards and relationship is comparable to long-haul pets. Of course, even if they were, I'm not even sure I would want to become so deeply attached to something I know is only going to live for 2 years.