Success Is Not Age Related

A new study, rejecting decades of contrary thinking, finds that your age should never hinder you from being successful.

For decades, scientists who study achievement have found that people tend to achieve their most promising work earlier in life rather than later. But a new big-data analysis appearing in the journal Science finds that long-term success doesn’t hinge on age or on early stardom in your career field.

Instead, success hinges on a combination of personality, persistence, intelligence and some luck at any age, the researchers find. The research took into account all levels, from the student and young professional to mid-career striver and beyond.

“The bottom line is: Brother, never give up. When you give up, that’s when your creativity ends,” says Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who conducted the analysis with a team of researchers.

Researchers at first just studied the career of physicists before broadening the study’s scope. Initially, the research team found that that physicists tended to produce their most notable work earlier rather than later in life, but it had nothing to do with their age. Instead, it was based on their productivity. Young scientists tried more experiments, which increased the likelihood they would find something that worked. As such, keeping your productivity equal at age 50 to a 25-year-old could score you just as much success, researchers found.

QThe study also found the “Q factor” to be of great significance. The “Q factor” remains constant over time, researchers noted. Q compares with skill and includes factors like I.Q., drive, motivation, openness to new ideas and the ability to work well with others, researchers said. Q may be more important than how much experience a person has in a profession. Experience does not significantly raise a person’s ability to make the most impact in a project, researchers said.

“It’s shocking to think about,” Barabasi told The New York Times. “We found that these three factors — Q, productivity and luck — are independent of each other.”

Mozart, Marie Curie and Einstein all were successful before age 30 and researchers found that many career scientists were more likely to produce “impact” papers earlier rather than later. However, that this had nothing to do with their age. Instead, the new research, finds a host of factors that have nothing to do with age or early stardom. They suggest a combination of personality, persistence, pure luck and intelligence, leads to high-impact success at any age.