Age and Genius: Why the Late 30s Are the Best Times for Breakthroughs

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brainstorming image. Most scientists don't achieve their first big breakthrough until their late thirties. (User art4all/Shutterstock)

Albert Einstein once said that "a person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so."  

Genius may have come early for Einstein, who made his first major discovery at the tender age of 26, but according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, most scientists don't achieve their first big breakthrough until their late thirties. 

The study examined the ages and discoveries of Nobel Prize-winning scientists and inventors, and found that while true genius requires a lot of hard work early in life, most creative achievements happen much later—and even Einstein didn't fully work out his theory of relativity until his mid-thirties.

David Shenk, author of "The Genius in All of Us: New Insights Into Genetics, Talent, and IQ," discusses the study and its implications. He says that while most major breakthroughs may happen in the "sweet spot" of our late thirties, many experts create their best work well into old age.


David Shenk

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [8]

Carol from SF Bay ARea

I peaked at 50 in every way, including being at my most attractive, and I was voted a "beauty" in college.... With consistent exercise a "little work done," in addition to professional and financial thriving, I was in my best shape, wearing a fitted matte sequin gown for my second wedding. It was my way of saying, "World, I'm at my peak!"


Feb. 19 2014 03:54 PM
Kim from San Francisco

I'm in my late 30s and at the peak of my life. There are many reasons. One, I've been married to the same guy for 16 years. Two, I just got my Master's degree. Three, I laugh more and most of the time at myself. Four, I have been traveling to "find myself." From Asia to Middle-East and North Africa, I learned so much about myself - strengths and weaknesses. Though I'm currently unemployed, I am taking the time to enjoy marital life. I'm also looking for the next adventure, and my guy is as supportive as always. I look forward to my 40s. Really. I'm more at peace with myself than when I was in my 20s.

Feb. 19 2014 03:34 PM

Never give up your aspirations! Einstein was unusual, we all know . . . however his statement was unenlightened.

Human lives have many patterns; each life evolves according to experiences real, and learned, along with imaginings. Something, sparks an intellect, and off that rocket shoots.

Feb. 19 2014 02:06 PM
GooberSmoocher from NYC, NY

So the current tragedies of high youth unemployment and Supercapitalism are just passing phases. I'm 37 and after 4 yrs of unemployment/underemployment it's harder to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Feb. 19 2014 01:21 PM
Doniella from Lake Forest Park, WA

I began my break through in my very early 40s - it ultimately cost me my marriage 28 year marriage because he couldn't deal with a working wife. I will be 80 in April and am still working as a mental health therapist. It is a blessing in my life to be of value and to make a difference in the lives of others.
Therapy is a two-way street. I cannot imagine a time when I'll want to stop giving - and receiving.

Feb. 19 2014 01:04 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I am 54 and doing my best work now. I have been reading what I wrote 30 years ago and throwing 90 percent of it away. So I'm hoping that by the time I'm dead I won't be throwing anything away.

Feb. 19 2014 10:20 AM
Anne Burlock Lawver from New York City

Doing something you love produces the best results: I was in Information Systems, a field for which I wasn't well suited but worked in that field at a fairly high level for more the 25 years. After leaving Information Systems about 12 years ago and working as a photographer, I am doing work I love: at the age of ;71 I will be having a photography show in Brooklyn at the Soapbox Gallery.

Feb. 19 2014 09:36 AM
Angel from Miami FL

Einstein lived in a world of male scientists.

What did he know... about anything not related to physics?

Feb. 19 2014 09:26 AM

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