How old are you? I mean in Korean Age.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 26 in Korean age and 24 in international age”




Yeah, that is true. We have a bit complicated and unique age counting system. It’s different from all the countries in the world. Well, at least these days. Do you know how it works? Here we go.

  1. Let’s say Sue is born in December 1, 2001, and she is automatically 1 year old. So you’re born 1 year old. It’s easy, right? We think that baby was already 0 year old in mother’s womb, or whatever.
  2. 31 days later, it’s January 1, 2002. Congratulations! Sue turns 2 years old! Don’t freak out. Let me explain. Every January 1, all Koreans turn a year older regardless of their birthdays.

Simple, huh? But you still don’t get how old you are in Korean age? I’ve got a simple Korean age calculator for you. See the below.

Your Korean age = Current year – Birth year + 1

For example, present year(2016), birth year(1991) -> 2016-1991+1=26. You’re 26 in Korean age.



▲He says he’s four, so he’s probably five or six years old in Korean age.


Expected questions


Q: So Koreans turn a year older altogether on Jan 1 every year. Then, do all Koreans share the same birthday?

A: Oh man, come on. Of course not. Age is not calculated by birthdays, but we still celebrate our own birthdays.


Q: If a baby’s born on December 31, would she turn 2 years old the next day?

A: YES. She’s already 2 years old on the second day of her life.


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Q: Do Koreans like to be old?

A: People don’t like to be older than themselves of last year, but people seem to enjoy being older than other people because age hierarchy is very strong. If A is even one year older, B should talk in the polite language(called ‘Jondaemmal’), and A would talk in the casual language(called ‘Bammal’). How different are the polite language and the casual language? Totally different. You will immediately know if you hear a sentence. They are different in verb use and some vocabulary selection. And you see the power of language here. It immediately makes hierarchy and gaps among people in different age.


Q: Then, what if younger person talks in the casual language to older person?

A: If older person allows that, it’s okay to keep talking in the casual language. But if older person doesn’t allow that previously or they meet at the first place and you talk in the casual way, everyone may think that younger person is rude and older person might be really angry.



Q: Why do Koreans keep this system?

A: I think it’s related to the age hierarchy issues. I said that if someone is even one year older than you, you should talk in the polite language. But what if it’s school situation? Because of the Korean age counting system, students are all in the same age (mostly) in the same-grade class, so they talk to each other in the casual language. However, if they don’t use this system anymore, they would become really confused. They might have to change their talking style depending on their birthdays and current month. Let’s suppose A was born in January and B was born in April. They were the same age in May~December, but when A turns a year older in January, B should change talking style into the polite language and in April when B turns a year older and makes B the same age with A, B can finally talk to A in the casual language. Ridiculous, huh? This is probably why we still keep this system.


Q: Why is age hierarchy so strong in Korea?

A: In the past, age hierarchy wasn’t such strong like this. Even if they were not in the same age, they could be friends, but as Korea experienced Japanese colonization period(1910~1945) and dictatorship period(1948-1993), it became more and more strict like army. Korea has finally adopted military style and strict hierarchy in some parts of everyday culture. And then it affects on talking style between people in different age, and the strict talking style makes the existing hierarchy even stronger.


Q: Is South Korea the one and only country that uses this age counting system?

A: Yes, other East Asian countries used this system in the past, too, but they changed in modern times. Even North Korea did, too.


Q: Do Koreans only use Korean age counting system?

A: No, in all official documents and public reports, we use the international age counting system.


Any more questions? You may write comments below and I’ll answer.

  1. Regarding the age hierarchy it really makes sense that January 1 all Koreans turn 1 year older 🙂 Thank you for describing this peculiarity!
    I am curious how different sounds ‘Jondaemmal’ and ‘Bammal’ languages. Is it possible to translate in English?

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Our Correspondent
Cult South Korea correspondent
Sujin - Seoul

I live in Seoul and I was raised in Gimhae. I did an exchange in the Utrecht, Netherlands and worked in Sintra, Portugal. I'm interested things such as films, languages, art, feminism, development, travel, human rights, animals, history, international relations, etc.

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Continent: Asia
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Languages: Korean

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