South Korea Enters New Age: Everyone Is Now Officially Younger.

Photo: Screen capture. This young lad holds up a card with his original age and his new age.
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By Editor-July 1st, 2023.

South Koreans woke up on July 1st, 2023 a year or even two years  younger after the government changed the East Asian country’s traditional way of calculation age by which babies are considered one year old on the day that they are born and one year is added to their age on each January 1st.

A law passed in December that scrapped the “Korean” method of counting someone’s age came into effect on Wednesday.

Under the “Korean age” system, babies are considered to be one year old on the day they are born, and every January 1, a year is added to people’s ages – regardless of their actual birthdate. For example, a baby born on New Year’s Eve becomes two years old the next day.

There is a second counting method – a mix of the international and Korean age systems – in which a baby is born at zero years, and one year is added every January 1. This is identical to the way that racehorses are aged in Western countries. Each horse is deemed to have its first birthday on the next New Years Days after its true date of birth.

So if a woman was born in August 2003, she would be 19 years old under the international system, 20 using the mixed method and 21 under the Korean system.

Under the new law, the country will use the international system that calculates age according to a person’s actual date of birth, meaning everyone will officially become a year or two younger.

But in reality, the change will have limited impact.

Many legal and administrative functions – including ages listed on passports, the age at which one can be prosecuted as a juvenile, and those to qualify for retirement benefits and healthcare services – already use actual dates of birth rather than the Korean system.

Other key areas such as school year eligibility, compulsory military service, and legal drinking and smoking are based on the mixed counting method  and will remain in place for now, Minister of Government Legislation Lee Wan-kyu told a news briefing on Monday.

According to analysts, the impact might become more evident in how South Koreans think about their relationships.

“In South Korea, it’s very common for someone to assert superiority in a social hierarchy according to their age. The older you are, the more respected you are,” Koo said.

“When you ask people their age, the answer Koreans usually give is their year of birth, and what the new system now means is that people have to be quite precise in saying exactly how old they are, and this will certainly lead to a renegotiation of the dynamic in the social sphere.”

One of the aims behind the change is to ensure that everyone in a specific school year is considered the same age and, therefore, can speak to each other without using honorifics.

“Age really matters” in South Korean culture, said anthropologist Mo Hyun-joo, because it affects one’s relative social status and dictates which titles and honorifics one must use for others.

“It’s hard to communicate with people without knowing their age,” she added.

Souce: BBC, Al Jazeera.
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