Did the NEJM study determine a person’s most productive age?

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In January 2022, a widely circulated Facebook post claimed that a person’s “most productive years” were between ages 60 and 80, according to an unreferenced study published in the credible, peer-reviewed research publication New England Journal. of Medicine (NEJM). As of this writing, the post has received over 68,000 shares.

In addition to similar iterations on social media, Snopes readers also sent our newsroom screenshots from a chain of emails with the subject “Old Person’s Brain.” which asserted that older people have “brighter brains and accomplish more than younger people”:

In particular, the message asserted that “the most productive age of a person is 60-70 years old”, that the “second most productive human stage is the age of 70-80 years old” and that the third ” the most productive” time is between 50 and 60 years. Prior to this, the person was said to have “not peaked”.

“So if you’re 60, 70 or 80, you’re at the best level of your life,” the poster proclaims.

Snopes searched available NEJM publications and was unable to find evidence that such a study had been conducted or published by the journal. To confirm, we contacted the publication directly and were told that no such article had been published by NEJM.

“NEJM does not use the numbering system cited in the Facebook post [N.Engl.J.Med. 70,389 (2018)]NEJM editorial coordinator Grace Hansen-Dewa told Snopes.

There were no “issue 70” or “issue 389” published in 2018, she said, nor page numbers for articles related to the topic.

“In 2018, the article found on page 70 is “Favism and Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency”, which begins on page 60. The article found on page 389 is the end of “Case 3-2018: A 5-Month-Old Boy with Hypoglycemia,” which begins on page 381.

Since the study in question never existed, we have classified this claim as “false”. However, scientific work has been done in the past to determine when a person might be most productive.

While there is a wealth of literature on the different life stages and their measures of productivity, each depends on a variety of factors, including whether you’re looking at physical, mental, emotional, or financial metrics. Without knowing exactly what metrics were used to make the original poster’s case, it’s hard to further determine when a person can be at their maximum potential.

Some research reveals that the last years can be the best time in a person’s life. In a 2015 TedX talk, real estate developer and senior spokesperson for the Halftime Institute, Lloyd further argued that there is “compelling evidence” that the second half of a person’s life could be the “best season”. of life.

But there is also evidence to the contrary.

In the comments section of a 2019 NEJM Facebook post that featured the issue cited in the misleading claim, several users mentioned the viral post, some of whom shared research they had found to suggest it might there is some truth to a person’s best years. occurring later in life.

“Historians of science have generally concluded that scientific output tends to rise sharply in the 1920s and 1930s, peak in the late 1930s or early 1940s, and then slowly fade away over the years. following,” wrote one such study published in 2012 to determine how an aging population may have implications for societal productivity.

A commentary published in 2008 further argued that the “determinants of productivity vary by age” and their relative importance in measuring productivity at various stages of life.

“Since experience has a reasonably strong effect on productivity, peak productivity potential occurs between ages 35 and 44,” the study notes.

There were other dubious and somewhat vague claims we also wanted to address from the Facebook post, the first being that “the average age of dads is 76”. It’s unclear what stage of fatherhood the original poster meant, but a 2017 study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that the average age of a father when his child is born is just under 31 years old – and about 1 in 10 fathers are 40 years old.

The statement in question is a great lesson in media literacy, where it is important to pay attention to context. For example, the original poster claimed that most Nobel laureates were 62 years old, but it does not specify whether this is the age at which they received the prize or the age at which they led the work for which they were rewarded.

The average age of a Nobel laureate, an indicator for studying at what age scientists produce their most groundbreaking work, is at least 65 and especially over 72, according to the BBC. (The winners were all also mostly male, which may say more about societal privilege than age itself.) Research conducted in 2010 looked at the age at which invention occurs and found revealed that the average is 39 years.

Age distribution of great inventors and Nobel laureates
Source: Journal of Economics and Statistics

In short, there are a wide variety of factors that can influence a person’s “productivity” and how it can be measured. Although there is evidence to suggest that some indicators of productivity occur later in life, other research shows that a person can be more productive in other areas of life at different stages, such as income finances, parenthood, or an individual’s own measure of productivity.

You may also enjoy reading:


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Aging, productivity and innovation. National Academies Press (USA), 2012. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148825/.

Skirbekk, Vegard. “Age and Productivity Potential: A New Approach Based on Industry-Wide Capability Levels and Task Demand.” Journal of Population and Development, vol. 34, 2008, p. 191–207. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25434764.

“Age and Productivity Potential: A New Approach Based on Industry-Wide Capability Levels and Task Demand.” Journal of Population and Development, vol. 34, 2008, p. 191–207. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25434764.

The American Elder – The Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/30/2020. http://digital.olivesoftware.com/olive/odn/topekacapitaljournal/shared/showarticle.aspx?doc=TCJ%2F2020%2F11%2F30&entity=Ar00501&sk=E752CF74&mode=text. Accessed February 16, 2022.

The average age of new American dads has passed 30. https://www.science.org/content/article/average-age-new-us-dads-has-passed-30. Accessed February 16, 2022.

The Most Productive Years of Your Life Might Surprise You | Lloyd Reeb | TEDxCountyLineRoad. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfkBDRa9J1I. Accessed February 16, 2022.

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