When It Comes to Success, Age Really Is Just a Number

Benedict Carey in The New York Times:

ManyThe question hangs over the career of every ambitious soul: Is there still time to make a mark? Charles Darwin was 29 when he came up with his theory of natural selection. Einstein had his annus mirabilis at age 26; Marie Curie made big discoveries about radiation in her late 20s. Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in E flat: 8 years old. For years, scientists who study achievement have noted that in many fields the most electrifying work comes earlier in life rather than later. After all, younger people can devote their life to a project in a way that more senior people cannot, and young stars attract support, mentors and prestigious appointments.

Now, a big-data analysis of scientific careers appearing in the journal Science finds a host of factors that have nothing to do with age or early stardom. It is, they suggest, a combination of personality, persistence and pure luck, as well as intelligence, that leads to high-impact success — at any age. “The bottom line is: Brother, never give up. When you give up, that’s when your creativity ends,” said Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who with Roberta Sinatra led a team of researchers who conducted the analysis. Both were physicists at Northeastern University in Boston. Dr. Sinatra has since moved to Central European University in Budapest. Previous work had found that a similar combination of elements lay behind the success of very top performers in a variety of fields. The new study illustrates that the same forces are at play at all levels of a discipline: the student, the young professional, the midcareer striver and beyond, to those old enough to wonder if their hand is played out.

More here.