South Koreans woke up today a year or two younger than they were earlier this week. This is not a sci-fi movie scenario, but the result of a long-awaited change in the way the country records age. A new law that went into effect this week brings national traditional approaches to age calculation into line with international standards.
Traditionally, South Korea practiced two ways of recording a person’s age. Under the first system, infants were counted as one year old on the day they were born, but an extra year was added every January 1, regardless of their actual day of birth. Thus, a child born on December 31 would become two years old the next day.
The second counting system was a mixture of this old method and international standards. Here a child was born at age zero, but then a year was added every January 1. Consequently, a person can be viewed as a person of three different ages, depending on which counting system you rely on.
Last December, however, a new law was passed to bring the South Korean system into line with the international approach. This law went into effect this week, Wednesday, June 27, and now everyone in South Korea woke up a year or two younger.
The impact of this change on the daily lives of most people will be minimal. Much of the country’s administrative system already works with people’s actual birthdays, which are used on passports and driver’s licenses, as well as other conventions, such as the age of criminal responsibility as a minor or the age at which a person is eligible for retirement or medical care.
However, the old mixed system still applies to some aspects of national life. For example, school enrollment data, the legal age for drinking and smoking, and eligibility for military service have still not been updated and will be introduced more slowly.
South Korea’s president, Yoon Seok-yeol, advocated this change during his election campaign last year, saying that the traditional age system leads to “unnecessary social and economic costs. He believes that the new law will help the country better integrate into the international community and facilitate interaction with other countries.
Traditional methods of age calculation were also practiced in other East Asian countries, but most have now turned to international standards. Japan relied on these old methods until 1950, and even North Korea turned to a standardized system in the 1980s.
South Korea’s new age-counting law has provoked different reactions among the population. Some welcome the change as a step toward modernity and simplification of life, while others express fears about its impact on the country’s traditions and culture. However, experts believe that this change is undoubtedly positive and will help South Korea become more open and flexible in the international arena.