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Getting Older

The scientific workforce has aged more quickly in recent years than the general workforce, a pair of economists reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

By drawing on data from the 1993-2010 Survey of Doctorate Recipients conducted by the National Science Foundation, David Blau and Bruce Weinberg, both from Ohio State University, found that scientists' average age increased between 1993 and 2010 from 45.1 to 48.6. At the same time, the general workforce age also rose, but not to the same degree.

The investigators attribute this rise to a combination of the aging of the baby boomer generation and the elimination of mandatory retirement ages at universities in 1994. They note that the percentage of scientists over the age of 55 who were working nearly doubled from 18 percent in 1993 to 33 percent in 2010.

Blau and Weinberg predict that the scientific workforce will continue to age in the near future and estimate that the average age will rise a further 2.3 years. "The aging of the scientific workforce is not over — not by a long shot," Blau says in a statement.

He adds that the implications of an aging scientific workforce are still being investigated. Though, he and Weinberg note that there are concerns that older scientists may be crowding out younger ones and that some studies have suggested that researchers are at their most creative early in their careers, suggesting that scientific progress could slow.