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Age Counting Reformation in South Korea Makes Residents Instantly Younger

by Sophia Chen
6 comments
South Korea Age Calculation

In a peculiar change of events, South Koreans have ‘grown’ younger overnight, as the nation implements a revised method of counting age. Despite South Korea’s initiative to abandon an unconventional age calculation practice, making its citizens appear a year or two older than they actually are, a part of the younger generation appears attached to the traditional way.

Six-year-old Kim Da-in amusingly shared that she turned 6 and then 5 again due to the new regulation that took effect on Wednesday. This legal adaptation endorses the international method of counting age in administrative and civil laws, motivating the public to calculate their age similarly.

The local age-calculation custom of South Korea traditionally recognizes a newborn as a year old, adding an additional year every January 1st. This results in a child born on December 31, turning two just a day later.

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The new legislation aims to eliminate the existing method and adopt international age standards based on actual birthdays. However, the practical implications of the law remain somewhat unclear, apart from the minor inconveniences faced by children like Da-in, eagerly anticipating their birthdays.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has outlined the standardization of international age as a primary goal of his administration, to alleviate “social and administrative confusion” and conflicts. Although, officials at South Korea’s Ministry of Government Legislation concede that the new law may not drastically alter how public services operate, as they are mainly based on international ages already.

International ages dominate most South Korean laws, official, and legal documentation, determining when a person can attend school, qualify for driving and voting rights, and receive a pension.

Choi Eun-young, a 49-year-old Seoul resident, welcomes the new law as she no longer feels obliged to identify herself as being in her 50s. She confesses, while the legislation doesn’t affect one’s biological age and bears no substantial benefits, it does offer a feel-good factor being referred to as a year younger.

Oh Seung-youl, another resident of Seoul, concurred, expressing his approval of the law which changed his age from 63 to 61. “My birthday is December 16, and I was considered 2 just weeks after my birth,” he commented, expressing the irrationality of the old counting method.

Kim Si-eun, 21, however, confesses her preference for the old system, which to her, was simpler. She expressed her discomfort with the switch, stating the altered ages now feel unnatural.

Despite the mandate in the new law that age must be counted by actual birthdays for most public services, it does not affect other age-related norms based on annual rules.

For instance, the age limit for drinking and smoking remains unchanged, permissible from January 1 of the year a person becomes 19 in international age, regardless of whether their birthday has occurred. The law also doesn’t influence the age at which South Korean males are required to serve their obligatory military duty, which is from January 1 of the year they turn 18 in international age.

Such alterations would necessitate amendments to the country’s youth protection and military service laws, the government legislation ministry noted.

According to Lee Wan-kyu, the government legislation minister, the law primarily aims to minimize confusion in everyday life and incite a change in “social perception” towards a more logical way of counting ages. He emphasized that enforcing the international age standard could have critical implications, particularly in healthcare.

Instances where parents have misinterpreted cough syrup dosage instructions for their child based on ‘Korean age’ or disputes regarding children’s fares in public transport due to confusion between the two age systems illustrate some issues.

The issue of age interpretation led to a significant dispute in 2004 at a dairy company, Namyang. The disagreement arose over the terms of a collective bargaining agreement permitting the company to progressively reduce the salaries of employees aged 56 and above. After years of legal battle over whether the age of 56 referred to Korean or international age, the Supreme Court ruled in 2022 in favor of international age, based on communication records between unionists.

Choi Duck-sang, a 56-year-old office worker, pointed out that being younger isn’t always advantageous in a society where age often determines hierarchy. “You are losing as much as two years!” he said, but acknowledged that this reform should have been made much earlier. “It’s a good thing – the entire nation got younger together.”


Contributors to this report include Hyung-jin Kim, a writer at Big Big News, and video journalist Yong-ho Kim.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about South Korea Age Calculation

What changes have been made to the age calculation method in South Korea?

The traditional Korean age calculation method, which counts a person as one year old at birth and adds another year every January 1st, has been replaced by the international standard. Now, ages are counted based on actual birthdays.

Who is most affected by this change in South Korea?

All South Korean citizens are affected by this change, with many becoming ‘younger’ as per the new system. The switch seems to cause minor inconveniences to children eagerly waiting for their birthdays, and some adults also express discomfort with the sudden change.

What are the implications of this change in South Korean law and regulations?

The change primarily affects everyday life and social perception of age. However, it doesn’t alter other age-related regulations based on yearly rules, such as the legal age for drinking and smoking or the age at which males are eligible for mandatory military service. These would require further legal amendments.

Why was this change implemented?

The change was implemented to reduce social and administrative confusion, and to standardize age calculation with international norms. President Yoon Suk Yeol has outlined the standardization of international age as a key goal of his administration.

Have there been any disputes related to the old age calculation method in South Korea?

Yes, one significant dispute occurred in 2004 at a dairy company, Namyang, over the interpretation of age in a collective bargaining agreement. The disagreement, which led to a years-long court battle, was about whether “56” referred to Korean age or international age. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the international age.

More about South Korea Age Calculation

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6 comments

AgeIsJustANum June 30, 2023 - 12:46 pm

well, guess its just another year less on my passport. and another year more on my knees 😀

Reply
JohnKim87 June 30, 2023 - 1:31 pm

wow, just like that we got younger! not bad, though my lil sis isn’t too happy about it haha

Reply
LadyInRed June 30, 2023 - 8:43 pm

is it weird that I actually liked the old system? felt unique, y’know.

Reply
JongSoo June 30, 2023 - 9:14 pm

can’t believe I’m saying this, but I kinda miss being older haha. My international age just doesn’t sound as impressive!

Reply
TruePatriot June 30, 2023 - 10:19 pm

took us long enough to change it, I remember the Namyang dispute. That was a real mess… hope things will be clearer now.

Reply
SeoulTraveler July 1, 2023 - 1:51 am

Visited Korea last year and was puzzled when they said I’m a year older. Guess I won’t have to deal with that now, lol.

Reply

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