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Culture

What’s My Age in Korea?! - Explaining the Korean Age System

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korean-age-system
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Culture
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Date
May 31, 2024
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Published
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In Korea, age is a significant aspect of the culture and affects social interactions. The traditional Korean age system differs from the international age system, with age increasing on the first day of the New Year. However, South Korea has been transitioning to the international age system for legal matters. Understanding the Korean age system provides insight into societal norms and customs in Korea.
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Introduction

In Korea, age isn't just a number. It's a part of the culture and it affects social interactions in many ways.
It dictates the way you interact with others and can significantly influence your responsibilities within a group. If you are younger, you are expected to address elders with a certain level of respect, and your actions should reflect your position in the societal hierarchy. Conversely, being older comes with its own set of responsibilities. This emphasis on age can cause confusion, particularly for foreigners.
In this article, I want to clarify this aspect of Korean culture and offer guidance on calculating your Korean age.
Unfortunately, things have become even more complicated since this year as Korea has updated its official age system. However, this change has not yet fully reached daily lives yet.

International Age

Most of us are familiar with the concept of international age, where you turn a year older on your birthday. This is the system that is widely used worldwide, and it's probably the one you grew up with. In this system, a person is considered to be zero years old at birth, and they age by one year on each subsequent birthday. But in Korea, the age system works a little differently. It's not as complicated as some make it out to be, but there are some key differences to be aware of.

Understanding Traditional Korean Age

In traditional Korean age counting, you are considered a year old when you are born and your age increases on the first day of the New Year, NOT on your birthday. This means that a baby born on December 31 would turn two years old on January 1st.
 
💡Tip: If you're not yet familiar with the age system in Korea and someone asks for your age, a handy tip is to simply tell them your birth year. They can then do the calculations for you. This method will let them know if you are older or younger than them, and you can address each other accordingly.
 
Example:
To calculate your Korean age in an easier way, you can simply consider your Birth Year. For instance, if you were born in 2000, you would be 25 years old in 2024 in Korea.
 
( Current Year - Birth Year + 1 )
 
Example:
2024 - 2000 + 1 = 25
 
Birthdate
International Age (as of Jan 1, 2024)
Traditional Korean Age (as of Jan 1, 2024)
Jan 1, 2000
24
26
Dec 31, 2000
23
26
Jan 1, 2001
23
25
Dec 31, 2001
22
25

Lunar New Year Exception

In Korean culture, a unique exception comes into play around the Lunar New Year. This usually occurs in late January or early February. If you and a peer share the same birth year, but they were born before the Lunar New Year and you after, they are regarded as your elder. In accordance with Korean customs, you would then need to address them with due respect. This nuance adds an extra layer of complexity to the Korean age system, emphasizing the cultural prominence of age in Korea.
 

Updated Age System

However, the traditional Korean age system has faced criticism for being confusing, especially for those not familiar with the system. It has also been challenging when it comes to legal matters and international relations. As a result, South Korea has been shifting towards using the international age system. This updated system, known as the "man-nai" (actual age) system which goes back to the International Age System.
The "man-nai" system is now used for all legal matters and in most formal settings. However, the traditional system is still used in casual conversations and social interactions. It's common for Koreans to ask your birth year or your Chinese zodiac sign to figure out your age.
 

Conclusion

In conclusion understanding the Korean age system is indeed an intriguing aspect of Korean culture. Whether one adheres to the traditional system or the updated "man-nai" (actual age) system, the importance of age in social interactions remains a constant. This knowledge can serve as a fascinating insight into the societal norms and customs of Korea. So, have you figured out your Korean age yet?
 

Interesting Article by David Tizzard: “Why You Don’t Have Friends in Korea”:

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About the Author

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Kim Ninja (Huy-Kim Nguyen)
Cloud Engineer / WebApp Developer 💻
Content Creator Bridging Korea 🇰🇷 to the World 🌎
Startup Founder based in Seoul, South Korea 🚀
 
The blog published by Kim Ninja (Huy-Kim Nguyen) is available for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice on any subject matter.
 

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