Who Gets Better With Age?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal asserts that, while various life skills seem to deteriorate as people get older, our skill at making personal-finance decisions doesn’t peak until the ripe age of 53. “Baseball players are said to peak in their late 20’s,” writes David Wessel. “Chess players in their mid-30’s. Theoretical economists in their mid-40’s. But in ordinary life, there’s an obvious tension between sheer smarts, often seen in the supple minds of the young, and experience, which comes only with age.”

The article is based on research by the economists David Laibson, Xavier Gabaix, John Driscoll, and Sumit Agarwal. This is an interesting finding, if not all that surprising: good financial decisions would seem to be based in large part on past experience, especially past failures.

But what it got me to thinking about is what other activities or pursuits we tend to get better at later in life. A lot of the most visible competitive acts in modern society — especially sports and fame-grabbing — favor the young, and youth is rewarded in a variety of other ways (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that age is punished). I’ve always thought that writers and actors get better with age, but that’s complicated by the fact that most unsuccessful writers and actors stop writing and acting by the time they’re in their 40’s or 50’s.

How about cooking? Gardening? Driving? What do you all think are the pursuits that people do better as they get older?


I'd have to vote for living with baldness. But maybe that's just me.


What about the fact that many people don't really devote much attention to investing until they are older. They realize it is almost time to retire and they haven't invested anything. Does anyone think this could have played a part in the study?


Sex gets better with age. No really. When you know how your body works, you're just better at it. You're not all distracted by hormones and can focus on enjoying the ride, not just the climaxes.


You asked!


They get better at giving advices (although maybe they never walk the talk).


Let me quote the great phenomenologist Edmund Husserl who I think says it best relative in context to this post:

"An object growth in complexity parallels a subjective growth in capacity."

Aging is timeless by comparison to the mind....

Dance Fusion

Without a doubt people get funnier with age. Actually, it may be a bell curve, with children and senior citizens as the funniest. The funniest people I have ever come into contact with were over 60, though it may be questionable whether they are wittier or just crazier.


I'm a little late to this discussion but in October 2006 Fortune magazine published "The Excellence Issue", an issue devoted to what it takes to be great at anything. To sum up, at a minimum it takes a period of ten years of "painful and demanding practice and hard work". This was based on the research of a team of British researchers. And ten years is the minimum, not the average. So get to work.


No idea if this is true for others, but I do think my critical thinking skills get better over time. Of course education in my twenties helped develop my initial skills, but they do get better as I age.


From all the kung fu movies I've seen, your martial arts skills definitely get better with age....those old masters are scary.

But seriously, for me my consumer skills seems to get better, mostly from owning a car and buying a house, where I do learn from mistakes, like knowing the dealer is not necessarily the best place to get an oil change, or learning to get loans from different places. I think it's probably similar to comment #28. I also think that as you get older and if you do have some savings, it already puts you in better footing in this because you don't have to negotiate anything out of desperation. Hopefully one's mistakes aren't so costly where it severely bankrupts you.


most 'crafts' require an expertise gained with experience. writing, say, or pottery. Filmmaking also, though with writing and filmmaking what gets better is the use of form to further your meaning... the counterpoint is that many authors in both media (and other related ones) often only have 1 thing to say.


Rappers. They almost always start out rapping about how they're going to conquer the world and everything and everyone in it. It's all rather rude and self-centered with very shallow meaning. They're verbal blowfish at their early stages. As rappers age, they progress through rapping about their strife as children and adolescents, then coming up in the rap game, then being on top of it. Their words become less rude and more meaningful and sincere as they get older, and in my opinion, more enjoyable ... better.


Some things I've noticed that I'm better at (at 44) than the much younger....

I'm better at assessing risk. Young people, with there self-perception of invincibility, often tend to not see the in inherent danger in certain actions. I sometimes shudder to think of the whitewater rapids I ran back before I had a like of sense. Also, I'm not sure that my financial risk assessment has not improved, as well.

I'm better at evaluating artistry/aesthetics. Maybe it's from having more exposure to such. For example, when you're young, you might actually think that rap or hip-hop is beautiful music. Us older folks know that not only is it not beautiful music, but it barely qualifies as music at all.

The older are better at maintaining their cool under fire. In my experience, the old, experienced hand doesn't go to pieces when the boss growls; while the novice might be utterly stressed out. I think this is because we learn what is truly important and what is just background noise.

As one poster mentioned, I do believe the older are better parents. Perhaps because (as in my case) we have lived a significant portion of our lives and assuredly know that a little boy toddling around is vastly superior to any reward or accomplishment that could be garnered elsewhere, and so we place more focus on what is important.

And that brings up the last one.... The older you get, the more aware you become of what is truly, truly important versus what seems to be important. And in almost every case I know, I have found that the older think that it is not fame and fortune, but health and good relationships that are truly valuable in this world.

Oh, and the older also are better at seeing the mistakes that the young are making with their lives--ha!


Clay Blasdel

Better at sex. Way better.

I learned the difference between plain vanilla, pedestrian sex and multi-orgasmic sex and they are light years apart. If you and your partner have the time, the experience of satisfying a woman for 3,4, even 5 hours is fantasmigorical. The fact is, you lose count of her orgasisms.

Of course the key to the man's endurance is Viaga (and like products). Most guys get a prescription for the 100mm sized Viagra, then split the pills into two 50mm size.(cheaper) Pop a viagra, wait about 30 minutes and start the marathon.

Of course there are men who scoff at the idea of spending more then 5 or 10 minutes with their mate. And I suppose there are women who have never enjoyed a wonderful multi-orgasmic interlude.

Ya don't know what you are missing. It's the reason that many younger guys seek out the little blue pills.

We have a choice... so...why not be a great lover? Very few guys are. And needless to say, she will love you for it.



This question has been very much on my mind. I'm an early-career science fiction and fantasy author. I've got about 200 short stories in print, two small press novels out, my first New York house book out this coming June, three more books scheduled in the next two years after that. I've also won several major awards, and have been a Hugo and World Fantasy Award finalist.

In other words, I'm generally considered successful by my peers in the field, and by the critical establishment.

But I couldn't get arrested, let alone sell a story, until I was 37. I spent ten years working at this, to no avail whatsoever except the joys of practice, then spent the last six years breaking out like crazy.

So, as a writer, I was utterly unsuccessful in my 20s and most of my 30s, but in my late 30s (and now my 40s) I became increasingly successful. It sometimes bothers me that I didn't come to this point in my career sooner -- I have a sense of the number of years, and books, available to me, and would liked to have leveraged the nearly two decades of functional, productive adulthood I spent on other pursuits that held far less meaning to me.

The counterargument of course is that I had to live long enough to have something to say. It's one I like to trot out every now and then simply to convince myself.



I think you are a better parent if you have your children later than earlier.


Pro cyclists don't usually hit their stride until their 30's -- the endurance peak hits around 28 and lasts until 32 or 33 (per "common wisdom" -- I don't have the data to back this up). Combine that with the time to develop the strategic skills, and I'd say that a cyclist who hits the pro ranks in his early 20's isn't going to really bloom until 30.


With age, one surely gets better at contemplating. Not to say this always happens, but if it happens, it's with a fair amount of experience.

But I disagree with the equation age = experience. I'm not that old, and still I find myself more experienced (or even wise)(but unfortunately not modest) than people much older than me.

In the end, "age" remains the amount of time one has spent alive, and some people use it one way, some another.


People improve at dating with age. Don't all of the posters remember how awkward their first date was? Can you imagine where you would be today and whom you would be with if you never improved at that exercise?


The older people are, the shrewder their judgment about what works to maintain good family relationships. Doesn't matter if you are talking about parent-kid, sibling-sibling, spouse, whatever. I don't think it peaks.

In general, novel creative theories are the province of the young, and reality-based pragmatism is the province of the old.

Family dynamics happen to be something where novel creative theories almost always bomb. Families haven't really changed for millenia, so the reality-based pragmatism works best in the end.

So if you want family advice, don't ask your age peer... Ask six of the oldest people you can find. Notice if there is anything that they all agree on that you should do. Believe it or not, it is amazing how accurate that consensus-info will be.


Interesting, Jim Cramer just turned 53.