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South Koreans set to become younger as traditional way of counting age scrapped

Students and their family members walk in front of an exam hall ahead of the annual college entrance examinations in Seoul, South Korea, November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Heo Ran

South Korea on Thursday passed laws to scrap its traditional method of counting ages and adopt the international standard – a shift which will make its citizens either 1 or 2 years younger on official documents.

Koreans are deemed to be a year old when born and a year is added every Jan. 1. This is the age most commonly cited in everyday life.

A separate system also exists for conscription purposes or calculating the legal age to drink alcohol and smoke, in which a person’s age is calculated from zero at birth and a year is added on Jan. 1.

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Since the early 1960s, however, South Korea has for medical and legal documents also used the international norm of calculating from zero at birth and adding a year on every birthday.

The confusing array of systems will disappear – at least on official documents – when the new laws that stipulate using only the international method of counting ages take effect in June 2023.

“The revision is aimed at reducing unnecessary socio-economic costs because legal and social disputes as well as confusion persist due to the different ways of calculating age,” Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power Party told parliament.

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

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“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.

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