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Something funny happened toward the end of the 20th century. Youth became an extended concept, and the word "middle age" virtually disappeared from the vocabulary. Nowadays, one goes directly from being adorably young to wretchingly old. One day you're wearing a miniskirt with cowgirl boots, the day after you're in the retirement home.

Once upon a time, youth officially ended around 25. Not any more. Take, for example, the so-called youth wing of the Parti Québécois. Its most prominent members are around 30, most of whom have been holding solid jobs for years. Education Minister and PQ leadership hopeful François Legault, 44, is routinely referred to as a "young politician," even though he is 21 years older than Claude Charron was in 1976 when he became the youngest member of Quebec's National Assembly.

Society as a whole seems to be getting younger and, as usual, it's the baby-boom generation that is leading the way. Baby boomers never wanted to grow up and now they don't want to age. So it's only logical that the following generation thinks of itself as being very young.

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Some baby boomers are just discovering that, maybe, just maybe, they might eventually die. When Beatle George Harrison passed away, a fiftysomething woman wrote a letter to Le Devoir: "His death brutally reminds us that even our generation is not eternal. This is a blow that's hard to take." New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that Mr. Harrison, at 58, "was still a young man."

In En Route, Air Canada's inflight magazine, a 40-year-old father of two talks about his loathing of "that horrible in-between thing called middle age."

"For me," writes David Eddie, "that conjures up terrible notions of compromise. Middle-aged is a no man's land. I believe men are meant to go from young to old abruptly." So Mr. Eddie skateboards, bleaches his hair, wears baggy pants and listens to rap music. He intends to follow the example of Yeats, who he says "was very youthful and adolescent-like until he turned 60."

The world is now full of "young retirees" and "young grandparents." I keep meeting people who, even though they have been legally married for 30 years, refer to their spouses as "ma blonde" or "mon chum" -- "blonde" and "chum" being the equivalent of "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" in colloquial Quebec French.

Baby boomers are now discovering grandparenthood, a fabulous new experience that rates even higher than Woodstock and campus activism. Still, grandparenthood is not exactly synonymous with youth.

A Radio-Canada talk host in her late 40s was horrified when Premier Bernard Landry, whom she had invited to speak about his family life, asked her on air whether she had grandchildren. "Me? Grandchildren? This is an insult!"

Mr. Landry, a pre-boomer born before the Second World War, was mystified by his interviewer's reaction. "This woman is old enough to have grandchildren, isn't she? My wife was a grandmother at 46," he later told a group of reporters.

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Our society is getting older, we are told. False. Really old people are just "older people," as an 18-year-old is said to be older than a 15-year-old. Baby boomers are still young. Generation Xers are even younger.

And thus it follows that one is still a teenager at 30. Which might be one reason why so many people in their late 20s still live at home: They're much too young to buy their own washing machines.

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About the Author
Economics Reporter

David Parkinson has been covering business and financial markets since 1990, and has been with The Globe and Mail since 2000. A Calgary native, he received a Southam Fellowship from the University of Toronto in 1999-2000, studying international political economics. More


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