The Nature of Creativity in Old Age

20 Pages Posted: 14 May 2019

See all articles by David W. Galenson

David W. Galenson

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: May 2019


A number of psychologists have concluded that creativity is primarily the domain of the young. Recent research has shown that this is wrong. Conceptual innovators make sudden radical innovative leaps, early in their careers. But experimental innovators work incrementally to develop new methods based on extended observation, and their innovations emerge late in their careers. The psychologists who contended that creativity diminishes with age failed to perceive that virtually every intellectual activity has had important older experimental innovators as well as their young conceptual rivals. Their error poses a barrier to understanding creativity, and makes a damaging contribution to ageism. This paper briefly examines the achievements of a number of great experimental innovators, including Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Paul CeĢzanne, and Elizabeth Bishop, and uses their work as the basis for an understanding of the specific mechanisms that connect age with experimental creativity.

Keywords: creativity, aging, innovation

Suggested Citation

Galenson, David W., The Nature of Creativity in Old Age (May 2019). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2019-67, Available at SSRN: or

David W. Galenson (Contact Author)

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