South Koreans turn to pet rocks to deal with loneliness, burnout


An unusual trend sees South Korea purchasing rocks online and treating them like domesticated pets by dressing them up, painting faces on them and giving them names and beds.

Key points:

  • The trend began around 2021 after a Korean TV actor and members of the K-pop groups Enhypen and Seventeen, notably Jeonghan and DK of the latter group, showcased their pet rocks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • The boom in pet rocks in South Korea was furthered by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Korea JoongAng Daily.

  • Soon after, many Koreans started buying their own pet rocks, with some of them explaining that they use the rocks as a way to cope with the growing loneliness, stress and burnout in their everyday working life.

The details:

  • South Korean sellers reportedly drew inspiration for selling rocks from a trend that swept the United States in 1975. American advertising executive Gary Dahl, who died in 2015, started the pet rock craze as a gag gift that year. He reportedly sold over 1 million pet rocks before the fad died down in 1976.

  • The smooth, round rocks are typically sold for prices ranging from $5 to $11. Some companies reportedly sell hundreds of these rocks per month.

  • Pet rocks have various purposes depending on who owns them. Lee So-hee, a 30-year-old researcher at a pharmaceutical company, said that she often confides in her girl pet rock, whom she named Hongduggae. “Of course, it’s an inanimate object that can’t understand you. But it’s kind of like talking to your dog and can feel relaxing in some ways," she told WSJ.

  • Others also post their videos on TikTok under multiple hashtags like #반려돌 (or pet stones).

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The data:

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  • The surge in popularity of pet rocks in South Korea coincides with a government data report showing that the number of single-person households increased from 9.72 million in 2022 to 9.93 million in 2023.

  • Overwork, stress and burnout are contributing factors that could explain the growing trend of pet rock ownership in South Korea. The country was considered the most overworked in Asia and the fifth-most overworked in the world in 2022, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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