South Koreans to Become Younger Under Law

Parliament votes to abolish traditional 'Korean age,' which created 'unnecessary' confusion
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2022 12:53 PM CDT
Updated Dec 8, 2022 12:46 PM CST
South Koreans Might Soon Subtract a Year From Age
In South Korea, it's possible to be 1 for a single day only.   (Getty Images)
UPDATE Dec 8, 2022 12:46 PM CST

South Korea's parliament passed a law Thursday that means citizens will soon turn a year or two younger than they've been all their lives. The country's traditional method of determining age, which specifies that a child is 1 year old on the date of birth and becomes a year older each Jan. 1, will be abolished in June. The age calculations used by the wider world, which are used by South Korea in certain situations, will be the norm going forward. A rep for President Yoon Suk-yeol, who made a campaign promise to change the system, said it "puts an end to unnecessary social and economic confusions," per the Washington Post.

Apr 20, 2022 12:53 PM CDT

South Korea has an unusual way of determining age: A baby is one upon its birth, and adds another year each Jan. 1. That means the "Korean age" of a child born on Dec. 31 becomes 2 years old the next day. So, yes, everyone gets a year older on the exact same day, the Guardian verifies. VOA reports that there are various theories as to how this arose: Some say the system accounts for the (almost) year spent as a fetus; others say it's tied to ancient numerical systems that didn't have a concept of zero.

Regardless of how it started, the BBC reports it could soon end. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has expressed a desire to put South Korea in sync with the rest of the world, with the head of his transition committee saying the current method causes "persistent confusion" and "unnecessary social and economic costs." Adding to the confusion: The country does use two other ways of determining age.

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Under some circumstances, especially legal ones, the country uses the international age system. A second Korean approach—which VOA reports is what's used to establish school grade and date of military service—sees a baby being born not gain a year until Jan. 1, meaning every child born in 2022 would turn 1 this coming New Year's Day. But "Korean age" is what continues to be used socially. The BBC says there is some doubt as to whether a change will actually occur; proposed bills on the subject in 2019 and 2021 ended up dying. (More South Korea stories.)

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