This article analyses a contradiction: while living up to a selective image of youth has become imperative for the maximization of life chances, doing so attracts the discursive misrecognition of young adults' personhoods. This cultural evaluation evinces a misapprehension of the meaning of adulthood whose increasing ambiguity is inseparable from changes in the semantics of 'youth'. I begin by analysing the normative model 'standard adulthood' from a recognition-theoretical perspective and then outline transformations in the semantics of youth that undermine that model's empirical validity. I argue further that labour and commodity markets have 'liberated' youthfulness from its biological, age-determined delimitations and have recast select, desirable (i.e. profitable) characteristics of youth as necessary for the maximization of individuals' life chances. I conclude that the normative foundations of contemporary adulthood are ambiguous because the market has appropriated, altered and then sold back to us the dream of eternal youth.