SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea is embracing a new age-counting method that brings people’s actual age in line with international standards, and as a result, many individuals suddenly find themselves a year or two younger than before.
While this shift has been widely embraced by adults, children are among the few who express a preference for the old age-counting method.
For instance, Kim Da-in shared her experience, stating that she turned 6 years old but then became 5 again under the new system.
The change, which took effect on Wednesday, formalizes the international age-counting method in administrative and civil laws, and urges individuals to adjust their ages accordingly.
The new law in South Korea aims to retire the traditional method of calculating ages and establish a standardized system based on the passing of birthdays.
However, it remains unclear what practical changes this will bring, apart from addressing the frustrations of children like Da-in who have to wait for their birthdays.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has emphasized the importance of standardizing international ages to reduce societal and administrative confusion as well as disputes.
Nevertheless, officials from the Ministry of Government Legislation have recognized that the new law is unlikely to significantly impact the implementation of public services in the country, as most of them already follow the international age system.
The international age system is already the norm in South Korean laws, official documents, and legal frameworks. It determines various milestones such as commencing school, becoming eligible for driving and voting, and receiving a pension.
The new law in South Korea seeks to retire the traditional method of calculating ages, which is based on the year of birth, and establish a standardized system based on the passing of birthdays.
This change is intended to address the frustrations faced by children like Da-in, who have to wait for their birthdays to reach certain milestones.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has highlighted the significance of standardizing international ages in order to reduce confusion and disputes, both on a social and administrative level.
However, officials from the Ministry of Government Legislation have acknowledged that the new law might not bring about significant practical changes in the implementation of public services, as most of them already follow the international age system.
The international age system is widely used and recognized in South Korean laws, official documents, and legal frameworks. It determines important events in a person’s life, such as starting school, obtaining a driver’s license, casting a vote, and receiving a pension.
Overall, the aim of the new law is to streamline age-related matters and promote consistency throughout the country.
“It’s always good to be younger,” Oh said with a laugh, as he expressed his appreciation for the new law that reduced his age from 63 to 61.
Oh explained, “My birthday is on December 16th, and I would be considered two years old less than a month after I was born under the old counting method. That’s why the old method doesn’t make sense.”
However, 21-year-old Kim Si-eun expressed a preference for the old counting method, finding it simpler.
“Korean-style age was actually easier to count,” she said. “With everyone now using international age, the changed ages feel awkward.”
While the new law in South Korea mandates that a person’s age must be counted based on the passing of birthdays for most public services, it does not affect certain age-related regulations that follow yearly rules.
For instance, the legal age for drinking and smoking in the country remains the same. Individuals are allowed to consume alcohol and tobacco from January 1st of the year in which they turn 19 in their international age, regardless of whether their birthday has passed.
This regulation remains unchanged, as it is not directly impacted by the shift towards standardized international ages based on birthdays.
The new law in South Korea does not impact the eligibility age for mandatory military duty, which remains from January 1st of the year a person turns 18 in their international age.
To change these age regulations, revisions to the country’s youth protection and military service laws would be necessary, according to the government legislation ministry.
Lee Wan-kyu, the government legislation minister, stated that the primary aim of the new law is to reduce confusion in daily life and encourage a shift in “social perception” towards a more rational method of counting ages.
Promoting international age as a social standard is particularly important in areas like healthcare. For example, a child could be at risk if their parents interpret the instructions on a cough syrup label reading “20 ml for 12 years and older” according to the traditional “Korean age” system, the ministry explained in a statement.
Differences in age interpretations have resulted in various situations, including instances where public transport users demanded refunds for paying their children’s fares, mistakenly assuming that the free rides for children under 6 applied to their “Korean age.”
These discrepancies in age interpretation also led to a significant dispute in 2004 at the dairy company Namyang.
Unionists and management clashed over the terms of their collective bargaining agreement, specifically regarding the gradual reduction of salaries for employees aged 56 or older. The disagreement stemmed from differing understandings of age calculations.
These incidents highlight the need for standardized international ages to minimize confusion and potential disputes in various sectors, ranging from public services to labor agreements.
After a lengthy court battle to determine whether the term “56” referred to the Korean age or the international age, the Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that the collective bargaining agreement should be interpreted as 55 years in international age. The ruling was based on communication records between the unionists involved in the case.
Choi Duck-sang, a 56-year-old office worker, expressed that being younger is not always advantageous in a conservative society where age plays a significant role in defining hierarchy.
While he acknowledged the loss of two years, he also recognized that this change should have been implemented earlier.
Overall, he viewed it as a positive development, noting that the entire nation collectively became younger.