South Korea has abolished its traditional age system, making all Koreans one or two years younger when the revision goes into effect on Wednesday.
The international method: The change comes after South Korea’s National Assembly passed legislation in December 2022 to unify the nation’s age systems with the standardized international model.
According to the Ministry of Government Legislation, the international model will be used to legally document the age of Koreans in contracts, official documents and social circumstances.
About the traditional age system: In Korea’s old tradition, a person is born at 1-year-old and becomes a year older each New Year’s Day. In this system, which is known as “age reckoning,” a newborn could be 2 years old just days after being born. For example, if their birth date was Dec. 31, they would turn 2 years old the next day, on only the second day of their life.
With the standardized international model in place, Korean citizens will have their age reduced by a year or two.
Reason for change: In a press briefing in Seoul on Monday, Government Legislation Minister Lee Wan-kyu explained that the revision is aimed to reduce confusion.
“Adopting the international method of counting age has been one of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s pledges to relieve the social and administrational confusion and conflict,” Lee said. “Unifying the age system reduces social costs unnecessarily caused by confusion in the age-counting system.”
The old system has resulted in confusion over the years, including surrounding the minimum qualifying age for children to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and legal dispute over the peak-wage system, which gradually reduces the salaries of senior workers years before retirement.
“Uniformly using the international age system will reduce unnecessary social disputes resulting from the mixed use of age systems,” Lee said.
Exceptions: The traditional age system will still apply on some occasions, including when 6-year-olds (international age) are expected to enter elementary schools and how only 19-year-olds or older (international age) can purchase age-restricted products such as alcohol or tobacco.
The old method will also remain in place for public servant examinations and for the mandatory military conscriptions.
“The government decided to contain such exceptions even after the revisions go into effect, as it is easier to manage such issues on a yearly basis,” Lee said.