De Economist

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Creative Careers: The Life Cycles of Nobel Laureates in Economics

  • Bruce A. WeinbergEmail author
  • David W. Galenson


We identify two polar life cycles of scholarly creativity among Nobel laureate economists with Tinbergen falling broadly in the middle. Experimental innovators work inductively, accumulating knowledge from experience. Conceptual innovators work deductively, applying abstract principles. Innovators whose work is more conceptual do their most important work earlier in their careers than those whose work is more experimental. Our estimates imply that the probability that the most conceptual laureate publishes his single best work peaks at age 25 compared to the mid-50 s for the most experimental laureate. Thus, while experience benefits experimental innovators, newness to a field benefits conceptual innovators.


Creativity Life cycle Innovation Nobel laureates Economics of science 

JEL Classification

J240 O300 B310 



We thank Jeff Rosen, Alicia Lee, and Gwen Jacobs for excellent research assistance and Andrew Abel, Daron Acemoglu, David Blau, Aya Chacar, Dan Hamermesh, David Hirschliefer, and Howard Marvel and seminar participants at New York University; Ohio State University; the Society of Labor Economists; Maastricht University; Dartmouth College; the University of Connecticut; and the NBER Productivity Lunch for comments. Galenson gratefully acknowledges support from NSF SES 0099105. Weinberg is grateful for support from R24 AG048059, R24 HD058484, UL1 TR000090, the National Institute on Aging and the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research via P01AG039347 (on which Weinberg and his work were supported directly by the National Bureau of Economic Research and indirectly by Ohio State); NSF SES 0095776, NSF DGE 1760544, 1535399, 1348691, and SciSIP 1064220; and the Ewing Marion Kauffman and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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