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A country with a shrinking population is in trouble, writes U. of C. economics Nobelist Gary Becker at Opinion Journal:
"Smaller populations reduce the amount of innovation partly because it leads to fewer younger persons, both absolutely and compared to the number of older persons. This shift toward a younger [sic! he means "older"] population is bad for innovation because the vast majority of important new ideas come from inventors and scientists who are younger than age 50, often far younger."
Is this true? Becker's colleague David Galenson has reason to think otherwise. Galenson has studied lifetime patterns of creativity among painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, and filmmakers. They fall into two groups: those who innovate young ("conceptual" innovators like Picasso) and those who innovate late in life ("experimental" innovators like Monet). His latest book is Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, reviewed in the Reader April 28. There Galenson briefly describes a study in which he branched out and looked at the life cycles of, er, Nobel laureates in economics born before 1927:
"Scholars categorized as conceptual were most likely to publish their most frequently cited work at the age of 43, whereas those categorized as experimental were most likely to publish their most cited work at 61."
Plenty more questions to come here: Do other fields--"inventors and scientists"--follow suit? Are there more conceptual innovators than experimental innovators? And so on.
I can see plenty of problems looming as American society becomes top-heavy with old people. But Galenson's studies of creativity so far don't suggest that a lack of important new ideas will be one of them.