Age and Scientific Genius
Great scientific output typically peaks in middle age. A classic literature has emphasized comparisons across fields in the age of peak performance. More recent work highlights large underlying variation in age and creativity patterns, where the average age of great scientific contributions has risen substantially since the early 20th Century and some scientists make pioneering contributions much earlier or later in their life-cycle than others. We review these literatures and show how the nexus between age and great scientific insight can inform the nature of creativity, the mechanisms of scientific progress, and the design of institutions that support scientists, while providing further insights about the implications of aging populations, education policies, and economic growth.
This manuscript was prepared for the forthcoming Handbook of Genius (Dean K. Simonton, editor). Weinberg acknowledges support from NSF #1064220 and # 1348691 and NIA P01 AG039347. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.