South Koreans have discovered the Fountain of Youth as people have begun to take years off of their age. At least, that’s what many people there are telling themselves as a new law has been enacted changing the way the country counts how old someone is.
In Korean culture, the age of babies and young children used to be counted differently from the Western system. Instead of counting the age of someone from their birthday, Koreans consider a baby to be one year old at birth and then add an additional year on New Year’s Day, regardless of the actual birthdate.
This means that a baby is considered to be two years old in Korean age when the Western age is only a few months or less. The age increases by one year on every New Year’s Day, regardless of the actual birthdate. For example, if a baby is born in December, they would be considered two years old in Korean age on January 1st, even though they are only a few weeks or months old in Western age.
This system is rooted in the cultural belief that a person becomes one year old at birth, and the additional year is attributed to the time spent in the womb.
But now that’s changing. A new law is making South Koreans adopt the international standard, and it’s making everyone “younger.” Children are especially getting a kick out of the new change.
“I turned 6 and then became 5 again,” Kim Da-in said when a TV reporter asked her about a new law that went into effect Wednesday that formalizes the international age-counting method in administrative and civil laws and encourages people to tally their own ages accordingly, wrote The Associated Press.
South Korea’s traditional age-counting custom considers every person 1 year old at birth and adds another year when the calendar hits Jan. 1, meaning a child born on Dec. 31 turns 2 the next day.
While the new law is the country’s latest attempt to retire that method and standardize international ages based on the passing of birthdays, it’s not immediately clear what will actually change — putting aside the minor frustrations of children like Da-in waiting for their birthdays.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has described standardizing international ages as a key goal of his government, citing a need to reduce “social and administrative confusion” and disputes. But officials in South Korea’s Ministry of Government Legislation acknowledge the new law won’t meaningfully change how the country’s public services are done, as most are already based on international ages.
The move to the international standard won’t be a complete shock to most South Koreans. In South Korea, international ages have been used as the standard in most laws and official documents for many years, especially in determining when a person becomes eligible to go to school, receive a pension, vote, and drive.