regift_of_the_gods writes "Science and technology are often considered young man's games. Isaac Newton worked out the details of differential and integral calculus and laid the foundations of mechanics and optics when he was 23 years old. Einstein was 26 when he had his big year, publishing papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion and Special Relativity. Mathematicians aren't even eligible to win the biggest prize in their field once they turn 40. But a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examining the relationship between age and peak output for great achievers in science (e.g., Nobel Prize winners) and technology concludes that the sweet spot for peak achievement occurs between the middle thirties and late forties
. After that, in the words of the paper's authors
, 'the frequency of great scientific breakthroughs tends to wane in middle age and continues to decline thereafter.' (No pressure here, but if you're in your thirties or forties as you read this, then maaaybe it's time to pick up the pace).
The authors note that the peak productivity curve has drifted rightward (towards older ages) over the course of the previous century, presumably because of the tremendous growth in the knowledge base scientists need to master before making a fundamental contribution. The NBER paper is based on earlier studies conducted by multiple researchers going back several decades; two of the three authors published a similar paper in 2011, which was also noticed in the press
[ED Note: I've often wondered if the long years of post-docs and junior research positions isn't squandering the peak creativity of a generation of scientists in support of their elders' projects.]