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Age is just a number: All South Koreans to become 1 or 2 years younger under new law

South Korea has passed a new law that will standardize the age of all persons in the country, eliminating the "Korean age" system commonly used by most South Koreans. Getty Images

All South Korean people are about to become one or two years younger as the country attempts to standardize their existing, uncommon methods of calculating age.

Currently in South Korea, citizens have three ages, an “international age,” a “Korean age” and a “calendar age.”

A new law passed by the country’s government on Thursday declared a person’s “international age” — the way most countries, including Canada, quantify age starting from zero at birth — must be used on all official documents. The law takes effect in June 2023.

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Presently, most South Koreans use their “Korean age” in the majority of informal settings. Under this method, Koreans are one year old when they are born. Another year is added to a person’s age every Jan. 1, so, for example, a baby born on Dec. 31 would be two years old the following day.

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A “calendar age” is a mix of both the “international age” and “Korean age” systems, where a baby is born zero years old, but still adds a year on Jan. 1. This method is used to calculate the legal ages for drinking, smoking and military conscription (which is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men before they turn 35).

South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol said the three age-counting methods are a drain on governmental resources.

“The revision is aimed at reducing unnecessary socioeconomic costs because legal and social disputes as well as confusion persist due to the different ways of calculating age,” he told Parliament on Thursday.

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Yoon, who was born on Dec. 16, 1960, is 61 years old under the “international age” system. His “calendar age” is 62 and his “Korean age” is 63.

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According to The Guardian, the origins of “Korean age” are unclear. Some believe the system was created by taking into account the nine-month gestational period and rounding it to 12 months. Others claim it was created because of an ancient Asian numerical system that did not have a concept of 0.

Presidential spokesman Lee Jae-myoung said a simplified age system would resolve “social and economic confusions” for South Korean people.

The new law is expected to be widely promoted by the South Korean government to aid the population in accepting the change.

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Jeong Da-eun, a 29-year-old office worker, said she was happy about the change, and that she has always had to think twice when asked overseas about her age.

“I remember foreigners looking at me with puzzlement because it took me so long to come back with an answer on how old I was.”

“Who wouldn’t welcome getting a year or two younger?” she added.

— With files from Reuters

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