South Korea has passed laws to abandon its traditional method of counting ages and adopt the international standard – a change that will make its citizens one or two years younger on official documents.
Koreans are deemed to be one year old at birth and one year is added every January 1st. This is the age most often cited by Koreans in everyday life.
A separate system also exists for the purposes of conscription or calculating the legal drinking and smoking age, in which a person’s age is calculated from zero at birth and a year is added January 1st.
Since the early 1960s, however, South Korea has also used the international standard for medical and legal documents of counting from zero at birth and adding a year at each birthday.
The confusing array of systems will disappear from June 2023 – at least on official documents – when new laws that stipulate using only the international method of counting ages come into force.
“The revision aims to reduce unnecessary socio-economic costs as legal and social disputes as well as confusion persist due to different ways of calculating age,” Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People’s party told parliament. Power.
Jeong Da-eun, a 29-year-old office worker, is happy with the change and says she always had to think twice when asked her age overseas. “I remember strangers looking at me in bewilderment because it took me so long to come back with an answer about my age.”
“Who wouldn’t appreciate being a year or two younger?” she added.
The origins of the system are unclear. One theory is that being one year old at birth takes into account the time spent in the womb – with nine months rounded up to 12. Others associate it with an ancient Asian numeral system that did not have the zero concept.
The explanations for the additional year added on January 1 are more complicated.
Some experts point to the theory that the ancient Koreans placed their year of birth in the 60-year cycle of the Chinese calendar, but, at a time when there were no regular calendars, they tended to ignore the day of their birth. birth and simply add a whole year. the first day of the lunar calendar. The January 1 extra year has become commonplace as more South Koreans have begun to observe the Western calendar.
Additional reporting by Justin McCurry