South Koreans officially become younger thanks to new law

A new law that adjusts the way age in South Korea is calculated has just made much of the country officially younger.
John Loeffler
South Korean children at an air show in 20124
South Korean children at an air show in 20124

Repubic of Korea Air Force/Flickr 

South Koreans are now officially younger after a new law went into effect that recalculates the age of a person based on international standards based on a person's date of birth, rather than traditional South Korean methods of determining age.

The new law, which was passed by the South Korean government in December of last year, does away with the 'Korean Age' system, which considered time spent in the womb into a person's age, assigning newborns as 1 year of age when they were born, and then advancing everyone's age by one on January 1, rather than on their actual birthday.

Under the old system, babies born on December 31 would turn 2 years old the following day.

The change was necessary to clear up "unnecessary social and economic costs," South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has said.

Not everything will change, however. Some laws like those governing the purchase of alcohol and tobacco will still be based on the year someone was born, rather than their actual birthday, keeping with the "counting age" convention of advancing someone's age every New Year's Day.

Why make the change now?

The question many might have is why make the change now? The older system is one that isn't unique to South Korea, but the country has taken much longer than others to adapt to the more standardized international system.

North Korea, for example, adopted the international system in the 1980s, while Japan moved to the international system in the 1950s.

“It’s tremendously confusing for many people," Se-Woong Koo, a South Korean journalist, told Al Jazeera; "some people think of how old they are in terms of the Western way of counting, others do according to the Korean way of counting, and there is in fact more than one way of doing it the Korean way so to speak,”

“Some people think your age increases with the Lunar New Year, not with the Solar New Year. Some people wonder if their birthday has anything to do with it.”

Regardless of why the change was made, it's very popular in South Korea, with three in four South Koreans approving of the move.

"I love it, because now I'm two years younger," South Korean resident Hyun Jeong Byun told the BBC. "My birthday is in December, so I always felt like this Korean age system is making me socially older than what I actually am. Now that Korea is following the global standard, I no longer have to explain my 'Korean age' when I go abroad."