Age Calculation Practices - Examining Cultural Traditions Worldwide


Age results from biological processes, whereas culture emerges from enduring experiences. The relationship between age and culture can exert diverse effects on cognition. However, there has been limited research exploring their interaction. Thus, we examined how cultural disparities interact with age, drawing from findings indicating that Asians tend to exhibit more intuitive thinking compared to Americans.

Both age and culture are pivotal factors influencing cognition and have been extensively studied. While tests of general knowledge demonstrate age-invariance, older individuals typically show diminished performance across various cognitive domains, including processing speed, working memory, long-term memory, and reasoning. The research underscores significant cross-cultural variations in cognition.

East Asians, such as Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese, typically adopt a holistic approach, emphasizing the entire context and relying on experiential knowledge, notably intuition. Conversely, Westerners, including North Americans and Western Europeans, tend to employ an analytical approach, focusing on salient objects, detaching them from context, and applying logical rules. Despite the well-documented effects of aging and culture on cognition, research into their interactions remains relatively scarce.

Age Calculation & Cultural Traditions

The way age is calculated varies from culture to culture. In some cultures, age is counted from the day of birth, while in others it is counted from the day of conception. In some cultures, age is calculated in years, while in others it is calculated in lunar cycles or other units of time.
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Here are some examples of unique age calculation traditions and practices from different cultures:

East Asian age reckoning:

In East Asia, people are considered to be one year old at birth, and their age increases on the Lunar New Year. This means that someone who is 20 years old in the Western calendar may be considered to be 21 or 22 years old in the East Asian calendar.

Hebrew age reckoning:

In Judaism, age is counted from the day of conception. This means that a baby who is born at 38 weeks gestation is considered to be one week old.

Islamic age reckoning:

In Islam, age is measured starting from the day of birth. Yet, the initial year of life isn't regarded as a complete year. Thus, a child who is one year old in the Western calendar is deemed to be zero years old in the Islamic calendar.

These examples merely scratch the surface of the myriad methods used worldwide to calculate age. It's crucial to acknowledge these discrepancies when interacting with individuals from diverse cultures, as it can prevent confusion and misinterpretations.

Coming of Age & Culture Differences among Nations

Coming of age is marked by certain occasions, rituals, and celebrations in many cultures and religions. Your child might observe one or more of these holidays depending on your family's cultural and/or religious traditions. Or you would like to modify a customary ceremony to meet the requirements and values of your family.
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Jewish teenagers:

Jewish participate in a significant and joyous religious event known as the bar mitzvah (for boys; for girls, the bat mitzvah) at the age of thirteen. This occasion marks the child's transition into adulthood and is the result of years of Hebrew and Torah study. After the religious service, a party is typically held. Of fact, 13-year-olds in contemporary America are not really adults, but the occasion is quite significant historically.

Catholic Teenagers

Along with baptism and the Eucharist, confirmation is one of the three most significant sacraments for Catholic teenagers. Teens undergoing confirmation are sponsored by an adult, and they select a confirmation name (often the name of a saint). Catholic teenagers are now considered adults in the eyes of the church, even though they are not legally adults, like Jewish teenagers are. Teen members of the church are also confirmed by other Christian groups.

Muslim adulthood

After reaching puberty, Muslims are regarded as adults and are subject to the same obligations as adults, even though there is no formal celebration or ceremony. These include participating in communal daily prayers, observing Ramadan's holy fast, and donning the headscarf (for women and girls).
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Quinceanera:

In the cultures of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America, and South America, girls turn 15 at a semi-religious ceremony and celebration known as a quinceanera. The occasion is typically very huge, akin to a wedding, and friends and family join the 15-year-old's family to celebrate.

Sweet 16:

Many American families have "Sweet 16" parties to mark their child's turning of the century. Although traditionally reserved mostly for females, boys can also be honored in this manner. It is typically a sizable birthday celebration with both friends and family.

Why Is the Age System in Korea Different?

There are two main reasons why Korean age is calculated differently than international age.

First, Koreans start counting age at birth, not from the date of conception or pregnancy. So when a baby is born, they are already considered 1 year old.

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Second, Korean age increases on January 1st every year, not on the person's birthday. So someone born in December will turn 2 years old in Korean age just a month after their 1st birthday by international count.

In contrast, the international age starts from the date of birth. A newborn baby is 0 years old. Their 1st birthday comes the next year on the anniversary of their birthdate. The nine months of pregnancy are not counted in determining age.

So in summary, Korean age is always at least a year older than international age because it starts counting at birth and advances every January 1st irrespective of actual birthdate. This difference arises from the traditional Korean culture of counting age from the start of life at birth versus the Western system of counting from date of birth.

Things to Keep in Mind about Age

Here are some additional things to keep in mind when working with people from different cultures:
  • Be respectful of different age calculation traditions. Even if you do not understand or agree with a particular tradition, it is important to be respectful of it.
  • Ask questions if you are unsure about someone's age. It is better to ask a question than to make an assumption.
  • Be aware of the legal age requirements in different countries. The legal age for things like driving, drinking alcohol, and voting varies from country to country.
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By following these tips, you can help to ensure that you are respectful of different age calculation traditions and practices.