Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Korean Households Are Getting Smaller, So Are the Goods They Buy

Companies aiming to sell to the millions who live alone

With the population aging and the birth-rate declining, more and more South Koreans are living alone, or with just one other person.

Twenty-seven percent of households were just one person in 2015, followed by two-person families. That’s a rapid change in the five years since 2010, when a family of four or more people was the largest group.

And that’s pushing businesses to develop new products catering to smaller families, from ready-made food deliveries, financial investment plans and smaller electrical goods.

“The recent increase in one-person households was driven by young people opting not to get married, and married couples living apart due to jobs in different regions,” said Lee Ji-youn, a director at the statistics office. “Going forward, aging will drive the increase -- the elderly living alone after their partners have passed away. ”

Food start-ups are capitalizing on the demographic change. Companies such as Market Kurly and Baemin Fresh deliver small-sized organic ingredients and ready-made food early in the morning.  

“Our target customers -- working singles and couples -- like our policy of delivering overnight because there is no one at home to receive the goods during the day,” said Sung Ho-kyoung, a spokesman for Woowa Brothers, which runs Baemin Fresh.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says the increase in the market is due to the increase of one-person and working-parent families.

The rise of affluent one-person households will lead to an expansion of the market for small-sized apartments and high-end officetels, which are buildings with both residential and commercial units, according to a report from KB Financial Group Inc. Companies have also been releasing smaller-sized furniture and electrical goods, such as rice cookers, washing machines, and refrigerators.

Financial firms are also jumping on the bandwagon. KB this month launched products catering to single-person households, such as credit cards that offer benefits at convenience stores, or equity funds that invest in companies expected to gain from the increase of people living alone. Woori Bank sells "all-for-me'' savings account and credit cards, which offers services such as free one-night stays at resorts for singles seeking a holiday.

And the solitary life isn’t all that bad. About 70 percent of people living alone said they are satisfied with their current status, according to a survey by KB of 1,500 singles aged between 20 to 49 in February. The positive responses were especially high among women in their early 30s -- 82.5 percent said they are satisfied. About half of them said they plan to continue living by themselves.


(For more economic analysis, see Benchmark.)
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