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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?