recommended reading

Startups Worship the Young. But Research Shows People Are Most Innovative When They’re Older



By Neha Thirani Bagri Quartz April 11, 2017

recent posts

While Silicon Valley had peddled the image of the 20-something, sweatshirt-wearing, college-dropout genius as the model for creativity in the 21st century, research shows it is, in fact, older people who are more creative and productive.

For example, a 2016 study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation that looked at the demographics of over 900 individuals who have made high-value meaningful, marketable contributions to technology-heavy industries in the U.S.

The study found the overall median age of innovators was 47 years old. Only 5.8 percent of the sample—which ranged in age from 18 to 80—was 30 years or younger, and innovation peaked between the ages of 46 and 50. The rate of innovation continues to be very high until the age of 55 and declined sharply after 65, the median expected retirement age in the U.S.

Particularly in the life sciences, material sciences and information-technology fields, individuals who filed patents tended to be in the latter half of their careers.

These findings were consistent with a 2009 study by John Walsh at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Sadao Nagaoka at the Hitotsubashi University in Japan, which analyzed a sample of 1,900 inventors in the U.S. and found the average age for American inventors is 47. Over 20 percent of inventors were in their 50s and more than 10 percent were 60 or older.

Only 5 percent of all the inventors surveyed had applied for a patent before the age of 25. In fact, in both the U.S. and Japan, older inventors produced higher value patents.

Even outside of technology-heavy industries, improvement in the level of education amongst older workers and delays in retirement means older workers have seen a rise in their earnings.

According to research carried out by Gary Burtless, a senior fellow who holds the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead Chair in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, workers between 60 and 74 now earn more than those between 25 and 59. In 2011, the hourly pay premium for older men was 22 percent, while for older women it was 10 percent.

Several of these studies were recently featured in The New York Times, where a writer argued that rather than be hampered by age, many inventors do their best work at later stages in their careers. She highlighted the case of John Goodenough, the nonagenarian inventor of the most important component of every lithium-ion battery that is itself a part of nearly every portable electronic device.

Thirty-five years after his game-changing invention, the world needed a superbattery that could make electric cars sustainable.

“I want to solve the problem before I throw my chips in,” he told Quartz in 2015. “I’m only 92. I still have time to go.”

Now, at 94, Goodenough claims he has a new solution that could allow electric cars to compete with conventional vehicles on price.


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.