China’s Adult Diaper Market Set to Overtake Infants

By Jonathan Walker | December 1, 2021
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
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Elderly people sit on a chair at An Yang park on February 27, 2018 in Harbin, China.
Elderly people sit on a chair at An Yang park on February 27, 2018 in Harbin, China. (Image: Tao Zhang via Getty Images)

The sale of adult diapers is quickly increasing in China, set to become a bigger market than infant diapers by 2025. Experts believe this could be a reflection of a demographic change happening in the communist country where the population is aging fast.

According to Jun Kato, an analyst at CLSA, the shift may happen even earlier. Kato says the adult market is growing faster while the infant market is “barely growing.” By 2028, China’s adult diaper market could grow to $16 billion from only $1 billion last year. By 2040, the market could reach a valuation of $30 billion.

China’s elderly population—those aged 65 and above—will amount to 365 million people by 2050; accounting for 20 percent of the total population. According to research firm Natixis, one in ten people Chinese were considered “elderly” in 2020; in 30 years, this ratio could change to one in four. 

Diaper manufacturing companies operating in China have jumped on the opportunity. Tokyo-based Unicharm, a major player in diaper and hygiene products in China, is allocating more budget for adult diapers than infant products for the first-ever time. A diaper factory owner is seeing “strong demand” via online sales. The demand mostly comes from hospitals and elderly care facilities. While foreign brands have enjoyed a higher brand value in China, the trend is said to be turning around.

“A lot of the trust in Japanese brands relates to the scandals related to [the] safety of domestically-produced infant formula . . . but it is now many years since [those incidents]… Chinese [consumers] increasingly feel that their own brands are getting stronger. New products are discussed immediately on their release — the word gets around very quickly if the product is good,” Kato told Financial Times.

One of the main reasons for the rising sales of adult diapers is the high cases of incontinence in the country.

Diaper manufacturers Kimberly-Clark and Essity calculate that only half of China’s 400 million adults affected by weak bladders buy diapers as they are embarrassed about the situation.

“People keep the fact that they have incontinence secret from their loved ones, from their husbands, brothers and sisters – this is a deep secret for many consumers and yet it’s just a fact of life, it’s a physiological reality,” Fiona Tomlin, who led Kimberly-Clark’s adult and feminine care division in 2019, told Reuters at the time.

Diaper manufacturers more often target women than men since females are over twice as likely as males to suffer bladder weakness, which often results from childbirth. According to a study published last year, up to 61 percent of Chinese women aged 60 and above suffered some sort of urinary incontinence in 2019.