South Koreans have become a year or two younger as new laws that require using only the international method of counting age took effect, replacing the country's traditional method.
"I turned 6 and then became 5 again," Kim Da-in said when a TV reporter asked her about a new law that went into effect on Wednesday that formalises the international age-counting method in administrative and civil laws and encourages people to tally their own ages accordingly.
Under the age system most commonly used in South Koreans' everyday life, people are deemed to be a year old at birth and a year is added every January 1.
The country has since the early 1960s used the international norm of calculating from zero at birth and adding a year on every birthday for medical and legal documents.
But many South Koreans continued to use the traditional method for everything else.
In December, South Korea passed laws to scrap the traditional method and fully adopt the international standard.
"We expect legal disputes, complaints and social confusion that have been caused over how to calculate ages will be greatly reduced," Minister of Government Legislation Lee Wan-kyu told a briefing on Monday.
President Yoon Suk-yeol has described standardising international ages as a key goal of his government, citing a need to reduce "social and administrative confusion" and disputes.
But officials in South Korea's Ministry of Government Legislation acknowledge the new law won't meaningfully change how the country’s public services are done, as most are already based on international ages.
'Great to feel younger'
According to a government survey conducted in September 2022, 86 percent of South Koreans said they would use the international age in their everyday life when the new laws took effect.
"I was about to turn 30 next year [under the traditional Korean age system], but now I have some more time earned, and I love it," Choi Hyun-ji, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul, said.
"It's just great to feel like getting younger," Choi added.
Choi Duck-sang, a 56-year-old office worker, said being younger is not always a benefit in a conservative society where age goes a long way in defining hierarchy.
"You are losing as much as two years!" he said.
"Still, I think this is a change that should have been made much earlier. It’s a good thing — the entire nation got younger together."
Another age system exists in South Korea for conscription, school entrance and calculating the legal age to drink alcohol and smoke: a person's age is calculated from zero at birth, and a year is added on January 1.
Officials said that method would remain for the time being.