Sales of adult diapers in South Korea surpassed those of infant diapers in 2021, according to government data released on Tuesday. This trend is likely due to the country’s aging population and decreasing birth rate.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety reported that South Korea produced and imported 112,000 tonnes of adult disposable diapers in 2021, an increase from 86,000 tonnes in the previous year. Adult diaper sales exceeded baby diaper sales by 1.6 times in 2021, with baby diaper production and import declining from 76,000 tonnes in 2019 to 69,000 tonnes in 2020.
The share of the country’s population aged 65 and older is projected to increase to 46.4 percent by 2070. In September last year, South Korea’s statistics agency announced that the total fertility rate (the average number of babies born to each woman in their reproductive years) was 0.81 in 2021, the world’s lowest for the third consecutive year. President Yoon Suk Yeol has asked policymakers to come up with more effective measures to address the problem.
The population has been declining, leading to worries that the economy could be severely affected due to labor shortages and greater welfare spending as the number of taxpayers decreases. Young South Koreans have cited the uncertain job market, expensive housing, gender and social inequality, low levels of social mobility, and the high cost of raising children in a highly competitive society as reasons for not wanting to start a family. Women have also complained of persistent patriarchal culture that forces them to do most of the childcare while facing discrimination in the workplace.
Japan is also struggling with a low birth rate. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said last month that Japan will cease to function as a society if its birth rate continues to decline. The government has increased its spending on child-related programs and is establishing a children and families agency in April to develop policies on children and child-rearing. Despite cash bonuses and childcare incentives, Japan’s population has been in continuous decline for 14 years, and the number of births dropped below 800,000 last year. Nearly 28 percent of Japan’s population was over the age of 65 in 2017, and this figure is projected to increase to 38.4 percent in 2065. The working-age population in Japan is also quickly shrinking due to aging.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.