Are Your 30s a Good Decade For Creativity? What Research Says

“For an adult facing the responsibilities of a family and a career, devoting... time to purely developmental activities - activities that cost money rather than earn money - would be exceedingly tough. Only in childhood and adolescence will the time typically be available.”

- Geoffrey Colvin

This quote sums up a harsh truth for many people who detect their creativity is waning as they become older.

  • What factors make for a good decade of creative work?
  • What does modern research say? 

The picture is complex but encouraging concerning driven individuals in their 30s.

Why Many Creatives Peak in Their 30s

It can be difficult to maintain a sense of self and a creative drive alongside the demands of modern life. The stressors become extra complex when you tie in the urge to turn your creativity into a business or earn money from it.

That being said, some individuals see an explosion of creativity in their 30s and early 40s for a variety of reasons.  It seems if you wish to hit your peak, it’s best to build off what you’ve learned and done before.

Two great articles to check out:

As someone who writes, composes songs, and hopes to dabble in design, I find the above information comforting as I move forward with my 30s.

However, it’s good to be aware of a lot of factors that may cause someone to peak, one being “career age” and not just “actual age.” 

Check out the graph below:

20 years into a career seems to be the peak. (From the book Origins of Genius by creativity researcher Dean Keith Simonton.)

As time marches on, in most domains it takes a lot of work to accumulate all the knowledge that came before. Therefore, many professionals are reaching their creative peak and making an original contribution later in life. (So while Einstein’s greatest work was conducted in his mid-20s, this situation is basically unheard of regarding scientists today.)

“Yet by the Century's end, any physicist who died before the age of 30 would probably remain on heard of… The age at which people receive their first patent across a wide range of fields in business and government has been increasing at a rate of 6 to 7 years per century.”

- Geoffrey Colvin 

A Note About Epic Creativity and Motherhood

As you probably inferred, the 30s can become extra complex for creative women and mothers. (For some inspiration, I wrote an article about new parents who embrace creativity and domestic challenges.

When I began songwriting, I noticed early on how many of my favorite female writers, musicians, and scientists from history quite frankly did not have kids. Given the below list, I was torn about what to do (but found it to be one of those things you just don't talk about):

  • Georgia O'Keeffe, George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Barbara McKlintock, Virginia Woolf (from history)
  • Fiona Apple, St. Vincent, Gillian Welch, Stevie Nicks (and many others) are modern examples

“Women who win an entry in Who’s Who are four times more likely than similarly illustrious men to be unmarried. Moreover, those successful women who fit marriage into their lives are three times more likely to be childless in comparison to equally successful married men.”

- Dean Keith Simonton (creativity researcher)

I obviously think this is a societal issue, a cultural hangover, and not on the shoulders of women themselves, nor is it a reflection of their creativity compared to men.

Later on the author mentions the successful writer Anne Sexton, whose mode of working serves as an example for many mothers:

“Anne Sexton wrote prizewinning poetry in the corner of her dining room, taking advantage of whatever moments she could steal from raising two children and house-keeping.”

As someone who chose to have children, but still wants to embrace my creativity, I’ve had no problem finding numerous examples of creative mothers online.

There are a plethora of them in the podcasts I listen to and the videos I watch. It seems the online world has become their modern playing field (a slight adjustment from Anne Sextons “corner of the dining room.”)

7 More Reasons Your 30s Could Be Epic

  • You trust more ideas will come
  • You care what the right people think and forget the rest
  • You have life experience to build off
  • You are probably more flexible about your potential
  • A fully developed frontal lobe helps you navigate risks responsibly (big bonus)
  • Your intense and lifelong interests are obvious by now
  • You’ve practiced the process of creativity in other ways

If I hold this list in the front of my mind while diving into creative tasks, I feel excited about growing older with children and the work that may result. In a culture obsessed with youth and high accomplishment at a young age, I hope you found this article helpful. 

What are your thoughts on your 30s and 40s? Are they good decades for creativity or do you think it becomes even better with age?

4 Replies to “Are Your 30s a Good Decade For Creativity? What Research Says”

  1. Another very interesting article and certainly has me thinking. In reading this and the links, I guess I could agree with the artist Peak age of 42. Although it’s a knotty topic, I consider creativity some confluence of ideas, motivation and skill/craft. For me, musically, my late 30s we’re clearly my peak (which is ancient in my particular genre of rock). As for writing, which I am now, for the first time ever, truly focusing on, I expect my peak to be well in the future.

    Franses’ methodology can be spotty (as the article states), and there should be inspiration for us all in looking at the outliers in that we can peak at any time in our lives.

    1. I wrote this curious about my own situation – very aware that I may have already creatively “peaked” in my 20s (or it could be coming in my 40s, 50s, or beyond)! However, the research I came across in a book about “career age” of 20 being a creative explosion in history for many people – was too compelling not to share! The 30s also have a lot of elements converging for women especially – and I wanted to speak to that. Thanks for listening!

  2. well, here’s one way i see it: you already have the foundation and rudiments of creativity by having done that already in life. you’ve successfully written songs and will likely never forget how to do that even if you were to get a little rusty. those fundamentals won’t leave you and i’m guessing some of them apply to other creative endeavors.

    we don’t have any kids but i know mrs. me prioritized creative time even with a full time job. she lived cheaply in studios to money that might go to rent in a nicer place would go to paint and canvases. i really don’t find it selfish at all for a mother to have some of her own time to do her thing. it’s all about balancing that with family, isn’t it?

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Freddy. I recently read some research about this (time going by but certain skills not waning) that I will have to reflect on a bit more.

      I think my song-writing definitely spills over into other writing. I remember writing college papers quickly and thinking it was an organizational and “writing during my free time in my head” skill that I had developed. It made college easier to have been a songwriter and run my own business, but I suppose that’s not the order everybody does it in!

      I like how your wife prioritized her art over money, which is basically prioritizing time over money. I enjoy my lifestyle when I create free time to dream. I will probably stay that way and not change anytime soon (even if my children are now the reason I want free time and live frugally)! It’s led to a pretty fulfilling life so far, and I’m happy to stick with it.

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