The only age calculation: Korean age

How old are you? It is often difficult to answer this question in Korea. Depending on the person who asks and the situation the age of the answer varies. Age is an absolute number, but why does this happen? The answer to this question is the way of calculating age that exists only in Korea.

In this story, you will learn what is Korean age and how to calculate the age in Korea.

Interestingly, you can have two ages in Korea. How do I do it? Because I will be 1 year old on the day I was born. I am currently writing this article and I am 22 years old in Korea. However, my birthday is in August, so I am 20 years old officially. To my Korean friends, I am 22 years old, but to my foreign friends, I am 20 years old. So I am 22 years old in Korean age, 21 years old when I count years, and 20 years old in official age. I can live with 3 ages in Korea. Of course, most Koreans think I’m 22 years old.

1 year old when a baby is born

It is known that counting age like in Korea was used mainly in East Asian Chinese character cultures such as China and Japan. So newborn’s age was calculated by turning one year old on the day of birth and two years old in the second year. However, Japan legally banned the age of counting in 1950, and China has not used the age of counting since the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Even in North Korea, since the 1980s, they have officially used calculating international age.

Confusing situations

It is not only for foreigners that the Korean age is confused. This is because the Korean age does not apply to all situations in Korea. Korea uses counting official years legally. In 1962, Korea announced the international age as an official age. The legal situation, the medical certificate from the hospital, and the public documentation from the public institution indicate the age as the official age.

An early-year system

Along with the Korean age calculation method, there is one more thing that confuses age. It’s the early birth system. In Korea, students enter school in March when they turn 8 years old in Korean age. However, children whose birthdays are between January and February can enter school a year earlier thanks to the early birth system, even if they are seven years old at age counting Korean.  For example, I was born in 2001, and I entered elementary school in 2008 when I turned 8 years old in Korean age, but some friends born in January 2002 entered elementary school in the same year as me. 

Revision of Korean age

The presidential transition team of president Yoon Seok-yeol’s who was elected on May 10, 2022, said it would revise the law to use official age even in social situations. It is expected to submit a bill to the National Assembly within this year and pass the National Assembly as early as next year. 

There are many confusing situations about age in Korea because the way of counting age varies from case to case and person to person. Although attempts are being made to unify how to count age in social situations as well as legal situations, much confusion is expected due to the still socially hardened Korean age calculation method. 

What do you think about this Korean age?


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