Does Research Productivity Decline with Age?
| Scott Masten |
I haven’t had a chance to read the article that Nicolai linked to below yet, but it reminded me of a not-unrelated article in last month’s American Psychologist, “The Graying of Academia: Will It Reduce Scientific Productivity?” Here’s the abstract:
The belief that science is a young person’s game and that only young scientists can be productive and publish high-quality research is still widely shared by university administrators and members of the scientific community. Since the average age of university faculties is increasing not only in the United States but also in Europe, the question arises as to whether this belief is correct. If it were valid, the abolition of compulsory retirement in the United States and some parts of Canada would lower the productivity of these university systems. To address this question, this article reviews research on the association of age and scientific productivity conducted during the last four decades in North America and Europe. Whereas early research typically showed a decline in productivity after the ages of 40 to 45 years, this decline has been absent in more recent studies. Explanations for this change are discussed.
It’s not a journal that I usually read, but I was asked to serve on the UM Senate Assembly Budget Study Committee, whose primary charge this year is to consider faculty retirement incentives and “alternatives” to full retirement, the presumption being that older faculty represent a problem to solved. One interesting observation made in the article is that research in the natural sciences involves long lead times, a consequence of which is that science faculty tend to wind down their grant applications and laboratories several years before retirement. An implication is that requiring these faculty to retire earlier wouldn’t eliminate these faculty’s later “unproductive” years but simply cause them to wind down their research programs earlier.