South Koreans are to become a year younger as the country’s soon-to-be president aims to simplify the long-standing tradition.
In South Korea, when a baby is born, they are considered one year old. They gain another year come New Year’s Day. This means a baby born in December would be considered to be two years old in the space of just a few weeks.
Even more bizarrely, it can also result in babies being born on December 31st can age two years within hours.
South Korea’s president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, has promised to abolish the system, which critics say is an anachronistic and confusing custom.
Lee Yong-ho, the chief of the president-elect’s transition committee, has said that the “Korean age” method has resulted in “persistent confusion” and “unnecessary social and economic costs”.
The new proposal to get rid of the traditional system has been widely embraced; with over 70% in favour of abandoning the traditional the Korean age method, according to a recent survey. This is despite the fact that South Koreans are accustomed to living with more than one age.
However, experts doubt whether it will actually be implemented. The issue is further complicated by the fact that there are three ways to count age in South Korea, with each number being recognised by different bodies.
Officially, the country has used the international counting system, using a person’s birth date, in most definitions and processes since the 1960s.
South Korea also has another official way to count age, in which babies are born at the age of 0, and gain a year every January 1st. For example, a baby born in December 2020 would be two years old by January 2022, even if they would not officially turn two until December of that year.
And finally, there is the “Korean age” method, which is used more typically by everyone in society, where everyone is automatically a year old at birth, and become a year older on New Year’s Day regardless of their birth date.
The Korean age-measuring tradition has its origins in China and different parts of Asia, yet South Korea is believed to be the only country that still commonly counts age in this way. Other Asian countries have abandoned this Chinese-style age system due to the influence of Western culture.
To some, age is just a number – while in South Korea, it is often taken very seriously. In a social content, knowing someone’s age is more important than knowing their name, as age determines how you address someone and which title is required to be used.