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South Koreans are about to become at least 1 year younger

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  • South Koreans will see their legal ages change in June 2023 after a parliamentary legislation standardizing their age system goes into effect.

  • In contemporary South Korea, multiple systems are used for age, including both the standard international system along with a practice called “age reckoning.”

  • Age reckoning counts a person’s age at birth as 1-year-old, with their age increasing by one year each New Year’s Day. 

  • Although the practice was developed in China and was once used in multiple East Asian countries, South Korea is the only country that continues to use the system to this day. 

  • President Yoon Suk-yeol’s administration said the move will “[put] an end to unnecessary social and economic confusions.”

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South Koreans will see their age change in June 2023 after a parliamentary legislation standardizing their age system goes into effect.

South Korea’s parliament passed legislation on Thursday that will reduce citizens’ recognized ages, or their “Korean ages,” by one to two years, depending on their date of birth. The legislation will adjust the age system in the country to follow a standardized international model.

In contemporary South Korea, multiple systems are used for age. Since the 1960s, a legal system aligned with the international standard practice of counting age yearly from birth has been used for official purposes. The new legislation will make the international standard the only system in the country, eliminating a long-standing system that calculates age by year rather than date of birth. In this tradition, which originates from a Chinese practice of counting age beginning at conception, a person is born at 1-year-old and becomes a year older each New Year’s Day. This system is known as “age reckoning.” 

Under the age reckoning system, a person could be 2 years old just days after being born; for instance, if their birth date was Dec. 31, they would turn 2 years old the next day, on only the second day of their life. Therefore, some Korean citizens will have their age reduced by up to 2 years. 

The age reckoning system is typically applied in social situations and in certain laws. In other laws and conventions, the recognized age is based on the international standard of counting years from birth. The dual systems have resulted in confusion over the years, including surrounding the minimum qualifying age for children to receive the Coronavirus vaccination.

The South Korean government first announced its intention to amend the law back in April, when President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee proposed an amendment to the existing age law. 

The practice of age reckoning has become increasingly rare in East Asia, and was repealed in Japan in the 1950s. Former President Moon Jae-in had also attempted to amend the system in both 2019 and 2021 but was unsuccessful. 

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