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How Has Everyone in South Korea Suddenly Become Younger?

In South Korea, a unique age reckoning system has been recalibrated, aligning with international standards and effectively 'reducing' citizens' ages overnight. This fascinating shift impacts social dynamics and legal age statuses. Imagine celebrating your birthday twice in one year! Intrigued by how this change affects daily life in South Korea? Join us as we examine the cultural implications of this age-old tradition's transformation.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

A new law that came into effect in South Korea this week has made everyone in the country a year younger – or nearly two years younger, in some cases. Last December, lawmakers agreed to do away with the country’s traditional methods of age calculation and bring South Korea in line with the rest of the world.

Previously, there were two methods of calculating age in South Korea that made it an outlier from other countries. The most widely used was the "Korean age system," which made everyone 1 year old at birth (with the rationale of counting time spent in the womb). And everyone’s birthday was considered to be January 1. For example, a baby born on December 31, 2022 would turn 2 years old on January 1, 2023 under the Korean age system. The other method was the "counting age system" which differed in that babies were considered 0 at birth but still celebrated their birthdays on January 1.

A new law has done away with South Korea’s traditional age-counting methods, which made everyone 1 year old at birth and all birthdays January 1.
A new law has done away with South Korea’s traditional age-counting methods, which made everyone 1 year old at birth and all birthdays January 1.

Besides aligning South Korea’s age-counting methods with accepted international practice (and making it simpler for South Koreans to explain their age when they go abroad), the government hopes that the changes should clarify age-related eligibility issues and eliminate social confusion. However, most South Korean public services already used the international standard for citizens' ages. Getting a driver's license, enrolling in school, and receiving a pension already used international ages, rather than "Korean ages." Yet there had been some issues surrounding different interpretations of ages when it comes to age-specific medical advice for children (e.g. medication dosages), age-based tickets and fares, and age-related salaries.

So how old are you, really?

  • Some things will still rely on the counting age system. For example, South Koreans will still be able to buy alcohol and tobacco beginning on January 1 of the year they turn 19, rather than having to wait until their birthday.

  • Likewise, South Korean men will still become eligible for mandatory military service on January 1 of the year they turn 18.

  • South Korea’s centuries-old age-counting methods are far from unique in East Asia, though most countries switched decades ago. Japan made the change in 1950, while North Korea switched to the international age-counting system in the 1980s.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • A new law has done away with South Korea’s traditional age-counting methods, which made everyone 1 year old at birth and all birthdays January 1.
      By: arinahabich
      A new law has done away with South Korea’s traditional age-counting methods, which made everyone 1 year old at birth and all birthdays January 1.