HallyuSG Explains: Why more than 51 million people turned younger overnight in South Korea

Due to a change in the age-counting law, some 51 million people in South Korea turned younger overnight. Some are in favour, others aren't.

Oliver Chan

| July 1, 2023
South Korea
Pedestrians walking across a road in Seoul. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Everyone in South Korea turned a year or two younger overnight on Wednesday (28 Jun).

This is due to a change in the age-counting law under South Korea’s legislation. The change was one of the promises made by President Yoon Suk-yeol in his presidential campaign, to prevent “unnecessary social and economic costs”.

Initially, South Koreans abided by the “Korean age” system. It is a traditional system where people are aged one at the time of birth in consideration of the time that one spent in the womb.

And an additional year is added to their age every 1 Jan.

Since the olden days, many East Asian countries have adopted this counting method. But countries like Japan and North Korea have since abolished this system, in favour of the international age system.

To date, South Korea was the only major region still using this traditional age-counting system, primarily attributed to its emphasis on age hierarchy.

The international age system is one whereby one’s age starts from zero. And a year is added to one’s age only when their birthday has passed.

There are, however, exceptions to this new system, such as for military conscription and buying age-restricted products.

Lee Wan-kyu, the Minister of Government Legislation, stated that this decision was made anyways “as it is easier to manage such issues on a yearly basis”.

Three out of four South Koreans were in favour of the change, according to a poll done by Hankook Research. The mismatch between the two age systems being used had caused much confusion, especially in terms of legal lawsuits.

Separately, there are also hopes that the standardisation of people’s ages would lower South Korea’s emphasis on age hierarchy.


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