Korean age isn’t specific to K-pop, but I wanted to make a post about it since the concept can be a little confusing. And if you ever want to live in South Korea, it’s important to know yours because people always state their Korean age as opposed to their international age (aka how many years old they actually are). So how do you figure out what your Korean age is? Is it one year older than your international age, or is it two years? The real answer is that it depends, and that’s what we’re going to look at in this post.
When calculating your Korean age, there are two factors to consider. The first is that in Korean culture, you’re already considered one year old when you’re born. Basically, it’s taking the the 9-10 months of your mother’s pregnancy and rounding it up to a full year. So no matter when your birthday is, your Korean age is AT LEAST one year above your international age. However, the tricky part is that the difference between your Korean age and your international age changes depending on your birthday. During Lunar New Year, everyone automatically becomes one year older. So right at that time, your Korean age is TWO years more than your international age. But once your birthday happens, it goes back to being one year ahead. So, the key point to remember here is that the gap between these two ages is NOT the same number all year round. You have to calculate it differently before and after your birthday.
Since I’m running a K-pop blog, I’ll give you some examples using K-pop idols. This time around, I’ve chosen NCT Dream. This might seem like me playing favorites with SM Entertainment artists since they’re almost always my example, but I promise it’s not. It’s actually because they have four members who were born in the same year (2000). They are:
So on the very first day of 2021 – January 1 – all four members were 20 years old internationally. During Lunar New Year (which was in February this year), they all automatically turned 22 in Korean age – BUT their international age still remained the same at 20. So before each member’s birthday, the gap between his Korean age and his international age is two years. After that, it narrows to one. Since they all have different birthdays, you can see their individual circumstances below:
Since Renjun’s birthday is fairly close to Lunar New Year, his Korean age is pretty much always one year higher than his international one. Aside from that first month, he doesn’t really have to think too much about the changing gap. Jeno was born in April, so he has a similar situation. Haechan and Jaemin were born a little later, so the difference between their Korean and international ages is two years for some of the time and one year for the rest. And if one of them had been born in a later season like fall or early winter, then his Korean age would be almost always two years more than his international age – kind of the opposite situation from Renjun.
What if your birthday is in January or February? This is complicated since the exact dates for Lunar New Year change every year, and the holiday could happen during either month. To be honest, I’m not actually sure and I can’t seem to find a straight answer on the Internet. But since I started teaching in South Korea, I noticed that the oldest students in all the grades were born in February and all the youngest were born in January. So although Lunar New Year can happen in January, February seems to be the default oldest month when it comes to Korean age. Thus, my best guess is that people born in February can say their Korean age is one year older than their international age, while those born in January can say it’s two.
So long story short, you can quickly figure out your Korean age by answering the question, “Have I had my birthday already this year?” and remembering the following two conditions:
- If your birthday HASN’T happened yet: Your Korean age is 2 years more than your international age.
- If your birthday HAS happened: Your Korean age is 1 year more than your international age.
I hope that this explanation has made things clearer for you!
NOTE: The featured image is a custom design I requested from my friend specifically for this blog and this column. Please do not alter it, repost it, or re-upload it without my permission. If you want to see the artist’s work, you can go to to her Instagram account here and/or her website here. The other images in this post are ones I made through PowerPoint. The images of NCT Dream are not mine and belong to SM Entertainment. (They’re teaser photos for “Hello Future.”) But I did all of the formatting and editing for the rest of the images, so please don’t reuse or repost them without my permission either.