Japanese Diaper Maker Shifts Focus to Adult Market Amid Demographic Shift

Oji Holdings, a prominent Japanese diaper manufacturer, has announced plans to cease production of baby diapers in the country and redirect its efforts towards the adult diaper market. The decision reflects Japan’s rapidly ageing population and declining birth rates, with sales of adult diapers surpassing those for infants for over a decade.

The declining birth rate in Japan hit a record low in 2023, with only 758,631 babies born, marking a 5.1% decrease from the previous year and the lowest number of births since the 19th century. Oji Holdings subsidiary, Oji Nepia, which currently produces 400 million infant diapers annually, has experienced a continuous decline in production since its peak in 2001, when it manufactured 700 million diapers.

In contrast, the adult diaper market in Japan has been steadily growing and is now estimated to exceed $2 billion. With nearly 30% of Japan’s population aged 65 or older and the proportion of those above 80 surpassing 10%, the demand for adult diapers is expected to continue rising.

While Oji Holdings plans to cease baby diaper production in Japan, it will continue manufacturing them in Malaysia and Indonesia, where demand is anticipated to increase. Japan’s declining population, attributed to ageing demographics and plummeting birth rates, poses significant challenges for the country’s economy and society.

Despite government efforts to address the issue, such as increased spending on child-related programmes and subsidies for young couples, birth rates remain stagnant. Complex factors contribute to this trend, including declining marriage rates, rising female workforce participation, and the high cost of raising children.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has acknowledged the urgency of the situation, describing it as a critical moment for Japanese society.

China, which also grapples with an ageing population and declining birth rates, experienced its second consecutive year of population decline in 2023. Despite implementing incentives to encourage childbirth following the end of its decades-long one-child policy in 2015, demographic challenges persist.

The shift in focus by Oji Holdings underscores the profound demographic changes underway in Japan and the broader East Asian region, where ageing populations and declining birth rates are reshaping societal and economic dynamics.