MPIDR Working Paper
Do only new brooms sweep clean? A review on workforce age and innovation
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2009-005, 29 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (February 2009)
The relationship between age and creative performance has been found to follow a hump-shaped profile in the arts and sciences, and in great technological achievement. Accordingly, accelerating workforce aging raises concern about whether future capacity to innovate is endangered. This paper provides a review of existing studies exploring age effects on innovative performance, both at the individual and the macro levels.
Empirical evidence confirms the hump-shaped relationship between workers’ ages and innovative performance, with the highest levels of performance seen between ages 30 and 50, depending on the domain. Industrial invention in knowledge-intensive fields, and great invention in general, seem to be a young man’s game. Yet in more experience-based fields, innovative performance peaks later, and remains stable until late in the career.
Moreover, the quality of invention remains rather stable at older ages. However, individual-level evidence has to be interpreted with caution due to the presence of selectivity biases and unobserved heterogeneity.
Studies at the levels of firms, regions, and countries address some of these issues. Results of these studies have indicated that young professionals drive knowledge absorption, innovation, and technological progress, whereas more experienced workers are more relevant in mature technological regimes.
Apart from integrating the existing empirical evidence on different levels of aggregation, a strong focus is on methodological issues and conceptual challenges. This review therefore provides a sound basis for further studies on the impact of workforce aging on innovative performance. In addition, promising directions for future research are proposed.