Change was a campaign promise by South Korean President Yoon Sok-yul, who pointed to the social and administrative costs the traditional way causes when juxtaposed with the international system.
The term “Korean age”, which is determined by the year of birth rather than the exact date of birth, is still widely used in the country’s social attitudes.
Since the 1960s, the Asian country has also been calculating the official ages of its citizens based on the international system, under which children start at age zero and years are added each birthday.
However, some laws use a separate method of calculating age based on the year of birth regardless of the month. The so-called “year-old” method is applied when determining the age of conscription or school grades.
The mixture of three different methods of calculating ages has often left South Koreans confused about their age depending on the conditions in which they live.
The official documents will use the international method from the middle of next year.
Presidential spokesman Lee Jae-myeong said the simplified age system “follows global standards and puts an end to unnecessary social and economic mixing.” The change is expected to address both domestic and international communication issues caused by the difference in age counting methods.
The current setup has also caused some embarrassing misunderstandings in the Confucian-influenced culture of South Korea, where the age gap affects how people interact.
The traditional method of counting ages was used throughout East Asia, but other countries such as China and Japan switched to the international system decades ago. Experts say this method has been preserved in South Korea due to the culture of hierarchy.
“People who find their age a year or two younger will also create a positive social impact,” said Lee Wan-kyu, Minister of Government Legislation in South Korea. He said the government will widely promote the new era system to help it stabilize in the daily lives of citizens.
Kim Jung-kun, a law professor at Chungang University in Seoul, told a government panel on the issue last month that “not only administrative measures but also social efforts to smash rank-based culture” are necessary to incorporate change.
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