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People Are Getting Younger in South Korea

Often, when someone is asked the standard question “How old are you?”, they answer with their “international age” or how many years have passed since their birth. This system is the same system used in most countries. 

South Korea just adopted this system recently. Citizens in the county awoke on Wednesday to find that they are now a year or two younger- at least on paper. 

The East Asian country is now adopting the “international age” in “all judicial and administrative areas” across the nation. 

The law, which passed legislation last December, is meant to “reduce various social confusions and disputes,”  said Lee Wan-kyu, the Minister of Government Legislation, at a news briefing on Monday. 

Prior to the use of the “international age” or standardized age, South Koreans would use two different systems- their Korean age and their calendar age. 

With the Korean age system, a baby is one year old on the day they are born and then another year is added on January 1.

As for the calendar age system, a person is considered zero on the day they are born but a year is added to their age on January 1. 

For example, if a baby is born on December 31, it would then be two years old the next day in the Korean Age system. It would be 1 the next day according to the calendar age system. 

According to a January 2022 poll by Hankook Research, three in four Koreans supported the standardization of their age. 

"There is a subconscious layer of ageism in people's behavior. This is evident even in the complex language system based on age... I hope the abolition of 'Korean age' system and the adaptation of the international standard get rid of old relics of the past," said Jeongsuk Woo, the 28-year-old content creator, to the BBC.

Although some may still use their Korean age in informal settings, 86% of Koreans said they would use their international age in their daily lives according to a September 2022 government survey

“I was about to turn 30 next year [under the traditional age system] but now I have some more time earned and I love it,” Choi Hyun-ji, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul, said to the Guardian. “It’s just great to feel like you’re getting younger.”

The government stated that the old age system will still be applied for certain situations. 

Law on age-prohibited products such as tobacco and alcohol will use the previous system and will be based on the year someone is born regardless of the month. According to this law, people are allowed to buy these products at the age of 19 in international age. 

“The government decided to contain such exceptions even after the revisions go into effect, as it is easier to manage such issues on a yearly basis,” Minister Lee said. 

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