South Koreans became a year or two younger on Wednesday as the government replaced its traditional method of counting age with the international standard.
Under the age system most commonly used in South Koreans’ everyday life, people are deemed to be a year old at birth and a year is added every January 1, rather than on their actual birthday.
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The country also uses the international norm of calculating from zero at birth and adding a year on every birthday for medical and legal documents.
From Wednesday onwards, the international standard will now be applied in all judicial and administrative areas, according to the Yonhap news agency.
“I was about to turn 30 next year (under the traditional Korean age system) but now I have some more time earned and I love it,” Choi Hyun-ji, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul, told the Reuters news agency.
“It’s just great to feel like getting younger,” Choi added.
The government said it hopes the change will ease confusion, citing, for example, the issue of older Koreans who may believe they are eligible for pensions and free travel benefits several years before they legally are.
“We expect legal disputes, complaints and social confusion that have been caused over how to calculate ages will be greatly reduced,” Minister of Government Legislation Lee Wan-kyu told a briefing on Monday.
Some key areas, including the school year, eligibility for compulsory military service, and the legal drinking age, are determined by another separate age system – known as “year age” – and this system will remain in place for now, Lee said.
This means that, for example, everyone born in 2004 – whether January or December – is eligible to begin the military enlistment process from January 1, 2023, because they are all legally considered to have met the minimum required age of 19.
The government might consider revising the use of “year age” for such areas depending on how the current changes go, Lee said.
South Korea passed laws to scrap the traditional method and fully adopt the international standard last December.
According to a government survey conducted in September 2022, 86 percent of South Koreans said they would use the international age in their everyday life when the new laws took effect.
The practice of counting age to include the time spent in a mother’s womb was once traditional in other parts of East Asia including China and Japan.