Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
Despite innovation and entrepreneurship commonly being regarded as a young person’s game, recent evidence shows that the best startups tend to be founded by people in their 40s. This support for older innovators is reaffirmed by a recent study1 from Brandeis University, which found that patent filings tend to also be higher among older researchers.
The authors examined over 3 million filings made in the United States between 1976 and 2017 based on the age of those making the claim. The analysis found that older inventors seemed to be more likely to rely on what’s known as “crystallized intelligence”, which is their knowledge and experience of past inventions to build something novel.
By contrast, younger inventors were more inclined to submit patents that were more forward-looking and built upon novel problem-solving and abstract reasoning, which are traits strongly associated with fluid intelligence.
The data shows that innovators were most productive in their midlife period, although it was far from uncommon for inventors to file their first patent after they passed their 50th birthday.
“The findings suggest that we shouldn’t assume that creativity and inventiveness are only possible in early adulthood or early middle age,” the researchers explain. “Although the peak of patents awarded are for those in midlife, there are inventors who are patenting well into later life.”
While older inventors draw on previously-filed patents more regularly than younger inventors, their work was nonetheless regarded as also being more original and referenced a broader range of fields.
“By examining the lifetime patenting of over a million inventors, we are able to examine how this creative activity changes with age in an important real-world setting,” the authors explain.
Article source: Research Shows Inventors Get More Productive As They Get Older.
Header image source: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash.
- Kaltenberg, M., Jaffe, A. B., & Lachman, M. E. (2023). Invention and the life course: Age differences in patenting. Research Policy, 52(1), 104629. ↩