The Effects of Aging on Researchers’ Publication and Citation Patterns

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The average age at which U.S. researchers receive their first grant from NIH has increased from 34.3 in 1970, to 41.7 in 2004. These data raise the crucial question of the effects of aging on the scientific productivity and impact of researchers. Drawing on a sizeable sample of 6,388 university professors in Quebec who have published at least one paper between 2000 and 2007, our results identify two turning points in the professors’ careers. A first turning point is visible at age 40 years, where researchers start to rely on older literature and where their productivity increases at a slower pace—after having increased sharply since the beginning of their career. A second turning point can be seen around age 50, when researchers are the most productive whereas their average scientific impact is at its lowest. Our results also show that older professors publish fewer first-authored papers and move closer to the end of the list of co-authors. Although average scientific impact per paper decreases linearly until about age 50, the average number of papers in highly cited journals and among highly cited papers rises continuously until retirement. Our results show clearly that productivity and impact are not a simple and declining function of age and that we must take into account the collaborative aspects of scientific research. Science is a collective endeavor and, as our data shows, researchers of all ages play a significant role in its dynamic.

This content has been updated on March 22nd, 2017 at 2 h 11 min.