More than 51 million people in South Korea woke up on Wednesday to find themselves a year or two younger, according to a new law that went into effect. The law establishes the use of the “international age” system, which is widely used in most countries, in place of the previously used “Korean age” and “calendar age” systems that caused confusion and disputes.
The aim of standardizing ages is to reduce various social confusions and disputes.
Lee Wan-kyu, the Minister of Government Legislation, stated that the new law is expected to significantly reduce unnecessary social costs resulting from the mixed use of age standards. President Yoon Suk-yeol had made this a significant promise when he assumed office last May.
Under the international age system, a person's age is determined by the number of years since their birth, starting at zero. However, in informal settings, most South Koreans usually state their "Korean age," which can be one or two years older than their international age. The Korean age system considers babies to be one year old on the day they are born and adds another year on January 1st of each year.
In certain situations, South Koreans also use the “calendar age” system, which combines elements of both international age and Korean age. In this system, babies are considered to be zero years old on the day of their birth, and one year is added to their age on January 1st.
Some exceptions will still use the old age systems. For example, children will start elementary school in March after their sixth birthday, based on international age. Age restrictions for alcohol and tobacco will also be based on the year of birth, regardless of the month. The new law also affects the legal age to buy alcohol, which is now determined by turning 19 in international age.
The same rule applies to mandatory military service, where eligibility is based on the year of birth, not specific age or birthdate. Although some people may still use the traditional Korean age system, many others are happy with the change to the international age system. A poll showed that 86.2% of respondents are willing to use the international age system. This shift towards standardizing ages is a win for lawmakers who have been advocating for a single age system to simplify things.