The government has decided to axe South Korea’s traditional age counting system whereby a child at birth is already one year old. President Yoon Suk-yeol promised this change in his election campaign. Many South Koreans are in favour of the decision.
Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea yesterday scrapped its traditional age counting system in favour of the international method, which will make South Koreans younger by one or two years.
Traditionally, Korean, children are already deemed one year old at birth and years are added starting on 1st January; thus, today 9 December 2022, someone born on 20 December 1995 would be 29 years old, not 27 years.
This system is used in everyday life, but there is also a second age counting system, used for the legal sale of alcohol and cigarettes and for military service. In this case, a person’s age is calculated from zero at birth and a year is added on New Year’s Day. Thus, someone born on 20 December 1995 would be 28 today.
In the 1960s, certain legal papers required the international system, so counting starts a year after a person’s birthday. Now the government has decided that, as of June 2023, only the internationally recognised will be used in all official papers.
“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,” said Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power party speaking to parliament.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol included the standardisation of the age counting system in this year’s presidential campaign; in his view, having multiple systems is a waste of resources.
Several critics also believe that the Korean counting system makes South Korea, an economic and technological powerhouse in the Far East, appear behind the times.
The origin of the Korean age system is unclear. One theory claims that it takes into account the time spent by the baby inside the womb rounded to 12 months; others believe instead that it derives from an ancient Asian numerical system in which zero did not exist.
The reason for the extra year added at the beginning of the year is even more obscure. Some believe Koreans placed their year of birth within the Chinese 60-year calendar cycle whereby a year is added at the start of each new lunar year; this was later moved to the first day of the Gregorian calendar when it was introduced to Korea.
Many South Koreans welcome the government reform. “Who doesn’t want to be one or two years younger,” some said.