South Korean ‘Kidults’ Obsess Over Kids’ Toys

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

When Shim Sung-min first met Lee Hannah, he was taken aback by his wife-to-be’s odd hobby. A 33-year-old Lee had an intense longing for Lego Minifigures, a popular set of collectible toys for children.

“I asked her to bring a part of her collection one time,” Shin told South Korean daily newspaper Maeil Shinmun. “Those little actions figures couldn’t stop coming out of her bag and those later filled the entire table at the cafe. I soon started wondering how much money we would be spending on buying Lego once we actually get married.”

Lee is one of many South Koreans in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who’ve come to be known as “kidults” for their incessant passion for what is largely seen around the world as kids’ collectibles. The Atlantic also recently reported that the toy-obsessed kidult phenomenon has been growing rapidly in South Korea, one of the world’s most elderly countries.

In May, McDonald’s in South Korea began distributing Super Mario toys for its Happy Meals. The toys were out of stock within three days, McDonald’s spokesperson told the Korean media.

“What we found interesting was that the toys ran out in just one day in our stores located near business-clustered areas … rather than residential areas where you would think there would be more demand for toys,” the spokesperson reportedly said.

The growing number of kidults is due to South Korea’s odd socioeconomic pattern over the last two decades. Many of today’s South Korean kidults were born in the 1980s when the country’s median age was in the early 20s. South Korea’s birthrate has since dropped to lowest among developed countries, and its median age has soared to 41, and is expected to rise to 53 by 2040.

“Korea’s economy was booming when they were growing up,” South Korea’s English language media network Arirang TV reported. “Such nostalgia or reminiscence could give them a sort of psychological satisfaction.”

Lee, the Lego-obsessed wife of Shim who works as a piano instructor, added: “Collecting Lego is one of the small things that gives me happiness in my everyday life. I don’t mind being called a kidult at all.”