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What exactly is Korean age and why move towards a unified age system?
Updated: 2022-05-11 17:03:29 KST
In Korea, there are three ways of counting one's age.
First, there is the universal age where babies are zero-years-old at birth and gain a year every birthday.
This method has been the official way to count age in most legal definitions and administrations since 1962.
Then, there is another official way called "Yeon Na-ee" or literally "annual age" in which babies are also aged zero at birth, but gain a year every January 1st.
This method is used to define legal age for certain areas of law such as military conscription or juvenile protection.
And then there's "Se-neun Na-ee" or "counting age" commonly known as "Korean age."
In this method, a baby is considered a year old at birth and gains a year every January 1st.

"For me it's a little difficult, because I have to count first, but I think it's an interesting way of counting your age. I think it's very special about Korea."

"There are many theories about the origins of South Korea's system of counting age… which in the past, was also used in other Asian countries such as China and Japan."

Experts say the lunar calendar used in Asia has had an influence.
Using the lunar calendar, people's birthdays change every year.
This made it easier to add a year to one's age every year, instead of on a person's birthday.
While other countries abandoned the system over time, the Korean language, with honorifics, made it difficult to do so.

"In the case of universal age, a person's age changes depending on the birthday, but that's not the case with the Korean age. Instead, everyone ages together on January 1st. This keeps the titles and honorifics consistent."

But the co-existence of different age systems has caused confusion.
Such as when dealing with COVID-19 vaccinations, Korea's wage-peak system, and insurance policies.
That's why recently… the presidential transition committee pushed for the widespread use of international age.

"With one, unified age counting system, it would be easier to figure things out. It would lessen confusion in contracts and administration… and reduce associated social and economic costs. "

The Ministry of Government Legislation is planning to submit an amendment to the current "General Act on Public Administration" to the national assembly within this year.
This would define international age as the official age system used in all legal and administrative mattersand would also encourage its use in unofficial settings as well.
Lee Shi-hoo, Arirang News
Reporter : slee@arirang.com