As of just this week South Koreans are now a year or two younger! Now this isn’t literal, if you and your Korean friend were both born in 2000 they are not suddenly younger than you. For the longest time Koreans had a separate age system that added a year to a persons age. Well not anymore!
For a while now many Koreans and politicians have wanted to put an end to the Korean age system. The president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has said before the current age system has been a drain on resources. And a recent 2022 survey suggested “86% of South Koreans said they would adopt the international system”. So better late than never the change starts now!
What is/was Korean Age?
Korean age basically adds a year to the age you are/will be this year to put it simply. Let’s run through the example of being born in 2000: this year you will/have turned 23, between friends born in the same year no matter what at the end of the year you would have all been 23 right? Koreans add 1 year to this age, ignoring your actual birth date.
Born Sept 1 2000: Current age 22, in Korea 24
Born Feb 20 2000: Current age 23, Same age at 24
That’s why you’ll hear that Korean age adds 1/2 years to your age. Instead of following your birthday Koreans look at your birth year – thus adding a year for everyone on the new year as well. Now it’s not like Koreans ignore a birthdate, people will still celebrate with friends and family but this is just how the age system worked.
Calculating Your Age in Korea
Interested in what your age would have been in Korea? You can figure it out a few different ways or with an age calculator.
1. First way you can calculate it out using your birth year like this:
(current year – birth year ) + 1 = your Korean age
ex: (2023 – 1996) +1 = 28
2. The second way you just add 1 or 2 depending on if your birthday has past:
Birthday has not past: add 2 to your current age
Birthday has past: only add 1 to your age
3. Or just using a calculator just like this one:
Enter Birth Year Here:
Your Korean age would be 2024 years old.
History of South Korean Age System
It’s not really clear when or how it all started but a common theory is that a year is added because the time in the womb, rounding up from 9 months to a full year to make it easier. Though in the early 1960s Koreans adapted the “international age” system a bit called 만나이. Before this year it was only really used in government related things or official documents; such as within hospitals, courts, and public offices while the Korean system for age was used in normal everyday life.
How This Will Affect People
Obviously a culture won’t switch just overnight. There will still be people using their Korean age for some time in casual conversation for a while as people adapt to using their “international age” permanently.
But for people around the legal drinking age and army inscription age this change has been worrying them a lot- what happens if suddenly you went from being 20 (the legal drinking age) to 18!
To help combat this the government has also changed the drinking age to 19 and news is that age-restricted things will focus on your birth year rather than date. The same goes for inscription laws, people will be eligible based on their birth year- rather than specific birthdate. So being born in Jan or November you will be able to buy alcohol just the same.
And yes it does suck for the rare case of twins born late Dec 31 and early Jan 1 but the old system treated them similar anyway.. We will see how this new change works out over time and maybe if South Korea will swap to birth dates being the legal guideline, but for now a persons birth year is still the focus.