In South Korea, everyone is about to look a year younger

In South Korea, everyone is about to look a year younger


How old are you? This is a simple question that normally requires a straight answer. For those who are in South Korea, answering this question nevertheless requires a little more time. However, this may soon change. Indeed, all South Koreans may be on the verge of becoming a year younger. But concretely, why was such a measure taken?

Yoon Suk-yeol, former attorney general and conservative, was invested this Tuesday, May 10 in South Korea less than a year after entering politics. Among the measures announced, the new president plans to reduce the age of citizens by one year. As strange as it may sound, there is a good reason for this. Indeed, if in most countries, people celebrate their first birthday one year after their birth, it is a little more complicated in South Korea.

One year from birth

In the South Korean system, you are considered a one-year-old child from birth. Indeed, the time spent in the womb is also counted there, although you did not actually stay a year inside. To complicate matters further, in this system you also don’t age a year after you are born, but on New Year’s Day. In other words, if a child is born at 11:55 on the evening of December 31, that child is then two years old five minutes later.

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Note that there is also another system allowing you to be 0 at birth in South Korea. In contrast, he still ages you each New Year’s Day rather than the day you were born.

This system dates back to ancient China. Instead of using a cardinal number system (i.e. 0,1,2,3,4), an ordinal number system was used where zero does not exist (i.e. say 1,2,3,4). Over time, everything finally agreed with the cardinal system, but the culture of the age remains a special tradition in South Korea. In this country, the age hierarchy indeed determines the way you can interact with your family or friends. So we attach great importance to it.

Practical reasons

Although some use the international system, the South Korean system is therefore seriously out of step with much of the world. As well as being just plain confusing, it comes with practical complications, which brings us to this new metric.

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“Due to different calculations of legal and social age, we have suffered unnecessary social and economic costs due to continued confusion and disputes over the calculation of age when receiving social and administrative services, or when signing or interpreting various contracts“, details Lee Yong-ho, the head of the political, judicial and administrative sub-committee of the transition team.

While being a year younger might sound great, note that many people will have to go through the ordeal of turning forty twice. Not cool.