40 going on 14: Why today's forty-somethings never grew upMost 'stay' middle-aged until they are at least 55 You are only as old as you feel…
22:00 GMT, 16 February 2013
22:32 GMT, 16 February 2013
He pouts and shouts. He dribbles his food and hides in the bathroom to play on his iPad – and let’s not mention the bicycle obsession and cupcake addiction.
Oh, and he’s also got a wife, two young children, an ailing business and a father whom he supports financially.
Pete, the lead character in the new hit comedy This Is 40, played by actor Paul Rudd, has the trappings of middle age but, along with his wife, seems slightly reluctant to grow up.
But what is middle age, and what does growing up really mean when we reach our fifth decade
Forever Young: Peter (Paul Rudd) and wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) in a party mood in the film This Is 40
The characters in This Is 40 ring true because what developmental psychologists call middle adulthood – roughly 45 to 55 – has been redefined.
A study last year found that most people do not consider themselves middle-aged until they are at least 55, despite the fact that physically we are approaching middle age in our late 30s, according to many gerontologists. So why are people acting so young even into middle age
First of all, we are living longer – over the past century the average life expectancy has rocketed from about 50 to almost double that.
By hitting 40 or even 50, you have the same number of years again in front of you, so middle age is becoming understood as a transition rather than the beginning of an inevitable decline.
AS OLD AS YOU FEEL
With increased longevity comes improved health. Yes, there are probably a few grey hairs, but if you’re not feeling the aches and pains that many once associated with middle age, then why should you behave as if you are
Society has changed immeasurably over the past 60 years. Until relatively recently we enjoyed a short adolescence and then turned into sober, less playful adults almost overnight because this was what one did – you had a job for life, got married, had children and then grandchildren.
Until the Sixties, people conformed to these conservative ideals for fear of being stigmatised as odd or subversive. But today we are far more liberal, and what was once frowned upon is now, increasingly, even encouraged.
Avoiding adulthood: Pete and Debbie (Leslie Mann) in This Is 40 appear reluctant to grow up and face their 40s
Teamed with a decline in religion, there are no real restrictions on how we should or shouldn’t behave as long as it does not harm others. The avenues open to us no longer follow the same trajectory – we are free to be the person we wished we had been during our youth.
After all, didn’t George Bernard Shaw say youth was wasted on the young There was a 30 per cent increase in divorce between 1997 and 2007 in the over-45s. Why Because we just aren’t willing to endure such a long expanse of time unless we are happy.
This liberalness can be seen in how the media infiltrates almost every aspect of our life – pop culture is sexy and sexy is young. In this way, we are silently conditioned to be younger. This cult of youth has a massive impact, if not consciously. It simply isn’t trendy or aspirational to look or think like an older person. We seek instant pleasure like a child might.
There is a scene in This Is 40 where Pete and his wife book a hotel room and smoke marijuana. In my view, it’s funny rather than debauched, and I’d wager most fortysomethings watching wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Despite the economic downturn, for many, life is about seeking pleasure as often as we can.
BIG BOYS’ TOYS
It is not only acceptable to be more playful but it is affordable too. The success of iPhones and iPads – which for some are little more than adult toys – is testimony to this. If you are middle-aged, glance at the apps you own and count how many are purely for entertainment.
And maintaining the veneer of youth is easier than ever – plastic surgery is relatively cheap and if you look young, why not act it too So, we act younger because we can. I, for one, as a middle-aged woman, think this time of life is something to look forward to.