The Korea Rural Economic Institute’s report based on Statistics Korea’s data from 2021 revealed that last year single-person households spent much more on alcohol than households with two or more people.
According to the findings, single-person households spent 10.6% of their processed food spending on alcohol products. Comparatively households with two or more people spent 7.3% on alcohol products.
Younger single people spent the most on alcohol. The report found that single-person households in their 20s and 30s spent 15.6% of their processed food spending on alcohol products. This is the biggest proportion of spending on alcohol among all age groups.
Beer was the most bought product among single-person households, accounting for 5.1% of the processed food spending and taking fourth place after bread, snacks, and frozen foods. Soju, a distilled Korean liquor, was 12th at 3% spending.
Monthly spending on alcohol products had steadily increased in South Korea over the years. In 2021 it was at 17,449 won ($14) an increase of 11.3% from the previous year. Between 2010 and 2021, the average annual growth rate of spending on alcohol was 7%.
Households in the top 20% by income spent more on beer. Households in the low 20% by income spent more on soju.
Harmful alcohol norm in South Korea
South Korea has a harmful alcohol norm specifically propagated by the alcohol industry’s use of pop culture. Movendi International has previously exposed how Big Alcohol exploits Korean pop culture to drive higher sales and more profit at the cost of the health and well-being of people. For instance, one of the most recent marketing ploys of Big Alcohol is the Chivas Regal marketing campaign featuring Kpop star Lisa from the girl group Blackpink.
This harmful alcohol norm extends to workplaces creating toxic environments at work. Similarly toxic workplace cultures are reported in other East-Asian cultures, including China and Japan.
This alcohol norm is probably one reason young single people spent so much money on alcohol.
Alcohol harm and policy in South Korea
According to the World Health Organization, South Korea’s per capita alcohol consumption in 2016 was 10.2 liters. This is higher than the average of the WHO Western Pacific Region. South Korean men who use alcohol consume a very high amount of 12.7 liters of pure alcohol per capita. Youth binge alcohol use is also very high with over half (58.5%) of alcohol-consuming youth between 15 to 19 years engaging in this harmful practice.
The harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry to South Korean men is evident from the fact that 21.2% are experiencing an alcohol use disorder.
In 2016, in South Korea alcohol caused:
- 4590 liver cirrhosis deaths,
- 1884 road traffic deaths, and
- 5389 cancer deaths.
Despite the heavy burden of alcohol South Korea lacks modern, evidence-based alcohol policies. Especially alcohol marketing regulations and alcohol availability limits are insufficient – they fail to protect the population from alcohol harm. They are not in line with WHO recommendations, as outlined in the SAFER blueprint for alcohol policy.