Babies Get Fewer Diaper Changes In Down Economy: Report

09/08/2011 05:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

Alan Greenspan might prefer to use men's underwear sales as an economic indicator, but statistics on baby diaper purchases also smell of trouble during the sluggish recovery.

SymphonyIRI data show unit sales of disposable diapers fell 9% in the 52 weeks ended Aug. 7, three times as fast as the population of infants. At the same time, unit sales of baby ointments and creams rose 2.8%, despite fewer babies.

The numbers don't prove that the economy is causing parents to buy fewer diapers, but they could point to another way people are cutting costs during a lethargic turnaround.

The New York Daily News calls it "The Pampers Indicator."

In 2008, NPR's Robert Krulwich recounted that Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said men's underpants sales were a good way to sniff out economic trouble.

"If you look at sales of male underpants it's just pretty much a flat line, it hardly ever changes," Krulwich recounted after the publishing of Greenspan's book, "The Age Of Turbulence." "But on those few occasions where it dips that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants. And [Greenspan] said 'that is almost always a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble.'"