Time Flies?

Popular wisdom holds that time goes faster when you’re older. However, a new study (summary here) by William Friedman and?Steve Janssen doesn’t quite support the maxim. They surveyed college students and older adults: “Respondents of all ages reported that time seems to pass quickly. In contrast to widely held beliefs, age differences in reports of the subjective speed of time were very small, except for the question about how fast the last 10?years had passed.” Readers, what do you think? Does time pass faster as you climb the age ladder? If so, what might be the reasons? Let’s hear from older readers in particular. [%comments]


Yes - my theory is that time goes by "faster" the older you get, because each absolute unit of time (i.e., one day) is smaller as a percentage of your overall life. One year will go by as fast to a ten year old as five years will go by to a fifty year old

Simon Baker

Theory: Our perception of the passage of time as it happens is proportional to our level of "busyness"; our perception of the amount of time in the past is inversely proprtional to our level of "busyness" during that past time.

Simon Baker

Sorry, other way round - the busier we are now the quicker time seems to pass whilst the busier we were in the past the more time appears to have passed (so time has gone "slower").


When I was a child, the two week Christmas vacation seemed very long indeed. Now a month is just a blink. I think it is time in relation to the time you have lived. At one year, a month is a full 1/12th of your life. At 60, I think it is 1/780th of your life. So your perception is altered considerably. Even the Bible says that our lives are just a blink to the eternal God who perceives time on an entirely different scale.


I feel that time does move faster as you age. Primarily because a fixed unit of time represents a smaller percentage of your total existence the older you get.

As an extreme example of this idea: when you are only 5, a period of 5 years is your entire life, so being asked to wait 5 years for something will feel like it will "take forever." And forget about conceptualizing a period of 10 years at that age. On the other hand, that same 5 year period for a 70-year old is equivalent to a tiny slice of their life, so looking ahead 5 or even 10 years without it feeling interminable is feasible..


I think it just feels like it goes faster because when we are younger we have more milestones we focus on and they seem like they take forever to arrive because we focus on those days. But once we are past those milestones (10, 13, 15, 16, 18, 21) we don't seem to have as many moments as often to look forward to, after we have say graduated every grade or school we go through, then we get married and/ have kids, we just go through our days in almost rhythmic motion with no bigger goals or milestones to keep us looking farther into the future. So time doesn't necessarily fly by any quicker than before, it just goes by without as much attenimtion or excitement on our part because we get wrapped up in the here and now, before we know it we have been focused on what's on our plate in our daily lives we haven't stopped to look up and see what's happening around us on a wider or broader perspective



Mathematically if you look at the percentage of your entire life that a finite amount of time (day/hour/second) represents it is always decreasing.

Percent of Life that 1 Day Represents over 70 Years

Eventually though the change becomes very small and the perceived length would probably remain about the same.


I agree with Tony. It is all about percentages. A five year old needs to wait a fifth of his life for another birthday (or a sixth depending on how you are counting). Whereas a 30 year old only has to wait 1/30th of their life for another birthday, no matter how much they may hope for things to slow down.

The other side of this is the saying that "The years go fast, but the days go slow." The percentages explain the fast years and that is because we are really bad at understanding a year. It is a relatively large unit of time so we compare it to other large units of time, like our entire lifetimes. Days on the other hand we have a better grasp on and so we compare the days to each other. As we get out of childhood and into adolescence and then young adulthood the days do in fact get longer as we take fewer naps, stay up later, wake up earlier. There is probably a max somewhere in your 40s or 50s and then the days start getting shorter again as retirees start going to bed earlier, taking naps and waking up later.




They responded that time passes quickly. In order to judge the passage of time as being quick, they must have some baseline to which they can compare it. For both age groups, that baseline must be in the past since it is currently impossible to judge the passage of time in the future. Therefore, both age groups report that time currently passes quickly for them when compared to the passage of time in the past; or: time passes quicker as they get older. There's nothing in this study that compares the elders' perspective of the passage of time to the college students' experience of the passage of time.


Yes, time passes quicker as I age. I'm 55 (and-a-half). Summers of my primary school years were never ending, to be enjoyed with whatever came up each day. In fourth grade, I'd spent half my life in school, yet I had twice as much to go before I'd get out? Now summers flash by too fast to do the dreamed of things. I'll be retired before I'm ready.


Time definitely goes faster as you get older. No double about it.

but OF COURSE college kids said that time seems to go by fast, because it's never gone by as quickly as when you're 30, 40, 50. Man, those days would just draaaaagggg now.


Tony is correct --- it's why the developmental differences between a three year old and a four year old are so great, but college classes can have freshmen through seniors without issue.

Andy Orr

I'm with Tony on this one.

Eric M. Jones

I put this into the category of "What strange weather we've been having lately...."

Humans don't have a good sense of time. Perhaps they sense its speed by thinking back on recent events, and as one ages, one spends less time reminiscing on these.

Ah yes, those long Summer vacation days spent in frolicking without worries. And they seem gone in a flash. Now when I meditate I can stop time.


I know the summers go faster but the winters don't.


I agree time passes more quickly as you age, but I don't attribute it to a percentage factor. I think it's more a question of concentration and experience. When you are young, most of your experiences are first-time. You absorb a lot of information and sensation. As you get older, the "been there, done that" factor figures more prominently.


It would be interesting to compare the subjective speed of time for people. How does each person feel time differently, and what are the possible ways we view time. Age has a lot to do with it, but probably there are psychological differences which make for stronger differentiation. A very interesting discussion on the nature of time:

Josh Jewell

I am not sure it has so much to do with percentage of life time but instead the amount of new experiences you have. When you are young every day is unique and different.

I think everyone has had a 20 minute car ride they can't remember, because nothing eventful has happened. The more our life is filled with a routine that doesn't change much the faster it will seem to go. At least in retrospect.

Since humans don't grasp time like a clock, I think we base how fast or slow time seems to pass by with the number of new memories created.


From what I understand the perception of time is dependent upon the way your brain stores information. Children remember small details of their everyday lives because they have so many new experiences. Their brains remember small details so that when a similar situation comes up again they can draw upon their previous experience as a guide to action. As one ages, they have far fewer novel experiences. Most everything older people do is repetetive. They don't need to form new memories because their brain can rely on the past to inform their decisions. It is an efficient means of storage. This explains why your grandpa can tell you about the winter of 1922 but not what he had for lunch. It would be inefficient to remember lunch, but the winter of 1922 provided him guidance for many years. I would guess that as your brain remembers less and less detail, time would seem to move faster and faster.



It depends a lot on how familiar you are with what you're doing in your life too. A new job or moving slows time down because we have so much new information to process and aren't on mental autopilot.