Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins Tuesday’s presidential election, voters have come to expect one thing: Either candidate will tackle the White House job with energy and creativity, perhaps in similar measure as one of the youngest presidents, Barack Obama. It is a mark of progress in American society that the ages of both candidates – well above “normal” retirement – have mattered little during the campaign.
The election winner will not be alone in retooling for a new job after decades of work. More than 37 percent of those between ages 50 and 64 plan to change careers, according to a survey by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago. For those over 65, the hope of a new career field is even higher, at 50 percent. And among those oldest workers, 19 percent have received job training or gone back to school in the past five years.
Does creativity decline with age? Not according to a new study of research scientists that defies conventional wisdom about the best age for people to make breakthroughs in their field.
Published in Science magazine last month, the study looked at databases of research papers by more than 10,000 scientists in a number of fields, from physics to economics, over decades. The more often that an academic had a paper cited by other papers, the more she or he was deemed to have an impact.
The study found that scientists were not necessarily more influential at a young age or at mid-career age. Older scientists may be writing fewer research papers, perhaps because they have moved up to management or full-time teaching positions, but their papers could just as easily have a similar effect on their fields as those of younger researchers.
The study, led by Albert-László Barabási at Northeastern University in Boston, should further help change attitudes in the workplace about tapping older workers, especially in creative fields. It could also cause institutions with a required retirement age to drop that rule. Dr. Barabási cites the example of John B. Fenn, who was forced to retire from Yale University but went on to work at Virginia Commonwealth University, where his work there won him the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The size of the population over 65 in the United States is at a historic level and will reach 21 percent in 2040. (In Japan, which is a more rapidly aging society, people over 75 now outnumber those under 14.) If this presidential election is any indicator, more seniors can not only flourish in new types of work, they should be expected to. Creativity flows to those most open to it.