Are We Ever Too Old To Learn New Things?

Are We Ever Too Old To Learn New Things?
Summary: Generational war has taken a large chunk of internet space in the past two years. Since Generation Z (born after 1997) started entering the workplace, millennials (born 1981–1996) have been branded as outdated and no longer setting the trends.

Here Is A Hint. We Are Not.

As soon as millennials realized they were turning 40, not-so-subtle age discrimination became common in the media and at work. Even though human societies were always youth-obsessed , this issue became more apparent during the pandemic.

Perhaps nothing in recent years has confronted us with our mortality more directly than the omnipresence of a lethal virus. But instead of finding healthy ways to cope with that fear, many people turned to the increased glorification of youth. Numerous headlines suggested millennials should "move aside", allowing Gen Z to take the spotlight, as they’re younger and per se more progressive and informed [1, 2, 3, 4]. The same was said to Gen X (born 1965–1980) and baby boomers (born 1945–1964), and the same will be said to Gen-Z when today’s kids become teenagers [5].

Our ‘"forever 21"’ society obsesses over youth, 30-under-30 lists, and 20-something TV series and movie characters. Even though it is harmful, that story has become so common that it is now celebrated and ingrained in our minds. Still, these ideas are enough to make people think that they are useless after a certain age and can't learn anything new. This invited apathy and resignation into our lives, holding us back from reaching our full potential and using every living moment to grow.

How Youth-Obsession Hinders Continuous Learning And Development

According to the Euro RSCG Worldwide's survey from 2012, 63% of consumers worldwide believed that society's obsession with youth had got out of hand [6]. Thus, although most respondents weren't concerned that they'd lose touch with what's happening in the world as they age, diminished mental and physical capacity were common concerns. But despite these findings, society hasn't changed much in the past ten years. If anything, it has worsened, reinforcing Simon Doonan's statement that youth has become the new global currency [7].

No wonder the anti-aging market increased from $3.9 billion in 2016 to $4.9 billion in 2021 in the United States alone. However, the global anti-aging market grew from $25 billion to almost $37 billion in the same period [8]. Moreover, the anti-aging market will reach $119.6 billion by 2030 [9]. Even though that doesn't deny the impressive growth of the Learning and Development (L&D) market, this industry often disregards the importance of including older people in its programs. Many companies focus on teaching and developing their entry-level and mid-level employees, putting growth opportunities for their senior workers on the back burner. After all, age bias is typically taboo in the workplace.

The societal focus on the youth affects every aspect of our lives. It implies that we should direct most of our efforts toward young people, helping them take over the future. Even though it's important to protect children and make sure they have the tools and chance to grow and succeed, we shouldn't forget about everyone else. Youth-centered messages may also give the impression to older people that their time is over, and they should move into the shadows. People can start to doubt their abilities, like their ability to learn and change over time, because of that story. If we add adults' increased responsibilities to the mix compared to youth, it's possible to lose the will and interest to adopt new knowledge and skills.

People are staying in the workforce longer than a decade ago [10]. That means companies should invest equally in their senior (tenured) employees as they do in selected high-performing workers, leaders, and junior employees. They should also shift the paradigm, remembering that older people are just as interested in adopting new abilities and not removing them from the learning stream. For instance, according to Statista , 23% of baby boomers and 31% of Gen X wish to learn new skills and potentially perform a different function [11]. But the number might be higher if society normalized learning, development, and accomplishments later in life. Besides waiving the obsession with youth, we should also debunk the myth that old people are incapable of learning.

Do We Lose The Ability To Adopt And Retain New Data As We Grow Older?

Adulthood typically brings a higher level of obligations and daily things to do. Many juggle completing their education, climbing the corporate ladder, raising kids, and finding time for themselves. After a certain point, it gets even harder to fit in learning and activities that help you grow personally and professionally. External messages echo that we should accomplish the most significant milestones by 35.

When they come together, these issues often convince people they’re too old to learn new things. Suppose we’re already too busy managing our daily lives and jobs while society continuously reminds us of our age and its arbitrary limitations. In that case, it can be easy to think it’s too late and lull ourselves into our comfort zone. But the truth is—you’re never too old to learn new things. You can still adopt and retain new data in your forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and as long as your well-being allows you.

Don’t believe the saying "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’" Not only can you learn as long as you’re alive, but it can also help you live longer and reinforce your health. Intellectual pursuits and curiosity stimulate our minds, slowing down cognitive decline [12]. Moreover, the education level is correlated to life expectancy more than wealth, as those with at least a four-year college diploma live longer [13]. Adopting new demanding skills at an older age improves memory, and continuous learning activities can help delay first Alzheimer’s symptoms and enhance life quality [14]. According to Dr. Rachel Wu from California University , giving older people lessons on photography, painting, and how to use technology could make their brains up to 30 years younger in only 6 weeks [15].

Learning has many benefits, and the only people who can't do it are those who don't want to try or think they are too far away or too old to do mental activities. But even though people should take the initiative, companies and employers should also help their senior employees adopt new skills and practice continuous development. For that to happen, we must normalize accomplishing significant milestones at an older age and learning for as long as our health allows us. Instead of primarily focusing on the achievements of young people, society should give an equal spotlight to older adults. So, we encourage people to keep learning and growing, and we give each stage of life the same value, not just adolescence and young adulthood. We need a paradigm shift.

Shifting The Narrative: Teaching People They’re Never Too Old To Learn And Accomplish Impressive Things

Time doesn’t stop after the thirties, nor does the ability to learn and grow. One doesn’t have to hit all the milestones in their twenties, nor fear aging. That’s why we need more 50-over-50 lists and career development programs for senior employees. Society must give equal exposure and opportunities to people in more mature stages of their lives instead of focusing solely on the youth.

People can learn at any age, and new skills and knowledge can enrich one’s life and strengthen their health [16]. Although our brains might become slower as we age, we also become better at impulse control, reducing mood swings, and improving decision-making. Thanks to that, older people tend to be better in some areas than younger ones, including verbal abilities, inductive reasoning, visual-spatial skills, basic math, and tuning out negativity. Getting new skills and knowledge also keeps the brain young and healthy, which is good for your overall health.

Sadly, many older people lack the confidence to learn and feel disheartened due to most Learning and Development resources targeting younger people. That can be especially challenging for senior employees, who tend to get fewer opportunities for upskilling and reskilling than younger workers and future leaders. They’re also pushed out of the workforce more often than their younger peers during crises and cuts. However, that leads to missing out on exceptional talents, experience, wisdom, and institutional memory.

The persuasiveness of the general societal narrative affects us on levels we don’t even understand. It encourages us to neglect the potential of older people and renounce our own after hitting a certain age. Moreover, it may cause us to associate longevity with stagnation and youth with progress. And while young people are inherently the future, and we must create well-rounded opportunities for them and help them grow, older people have built the past and the present.

It is not only humane not to leave anyone behind and give everyone equal chances but also logical. Every human has an unexplored potential, regardless of their age. After all, people are not products with an expiry date to be discarded or pushed aside. Hence, we must celebrate and dedicate equal attention to every stage of life. People don’t lose the ability to learn as they age, but they may lose confidence and interest if insufficient support and resources exist. Our society requires a shift. It must give equal limelight to older people and their accomplishments, as that reminds us that it’s never too late to achieve impressive things or learn new tricks. But it also replaces fear of aging with an eagerness to learn life to the fullest at any age.


[1] Move aside millennials, the customers of 2030 are redefining the CX

[2] Move Aside Millennials: Let’s Talk Gen Z

[3] Move aside millennials: Generation Z is set to reshape the workplace of the future

[4] Teenagers Forever

[5] Move over Boomer: Millennials, Gen Z dominate in the territories, StatsCan says

[6] Majority of Global Consumers Say Society Too Youth-Obsessed

[7] The Worst of Youth

[8] How the anti-aging industry turns you into a customer for life

[9] Anti-aging Market Size to Worth Around US$ 119.6 Bn by 2030

[10] Working Longer

[11] Share of workers who want to learn new skills to perform a different function worldwide 2021, by generation

[12] 5 Key Benefits of Lifelong Learning (plus Learning Tips!)

[13] Want to live longer? Stay in school, study suggests

[14] Lifelong Learning Is Good for Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life

[15] Giving old people lessons on photography, painting and how to use iPads could make their brains up to 30 years younger in just six weeks, study claims


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