If you believe that great scientists are most creative when they're young, you are missing part of the story.
A new study of winners of the Nobel Prize in economics finds that there are two different life cycles of creativity, one that hits some people early in their career and another that more often strikes later in life.
In this study, the early peak was found for laureates in their mid-20s and the later peak for those in their mid-50s.
The research supports previous work by the authors that found similar patterns in the arts and other sciences.
"We believe what we found in this study isn't limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally," said Bruce Weinberg, lead author of the study and professor of economics at The Ohio State University.
"Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you're talking about."
Weinberg did the study with David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. In the study, the Nobel Prize winners who did their most groundbreaking work early in their career tended to be "conceptual" innovators.
These type of innovators "think outside the box," challenging conventional wisdom and tend to come up with new ideas suddenly. Conceptual innovators tend to peak early in their careers, before they become immersed in the already accepted theories of the field, Weinberg said.
Weinberg and Galenson used two different methods to calculate at which age the laureates were cited most often and thus were at the height of their creativity.
The two methods found that conceptual laureates peaked at about either 29 or 25 years of age. Experimental laureates peaked when they were roughly twice as old — at about 57 in one method or the mid-50s in the other.