Financial Advice for Retirement, Social Security, IRAs and Estate Planning

Beware the Nine-Enders

January 10, 2018

You’ve heard about mid-life crises, and probably also heard the arguments that there’s no such thing.

Here’s a twist. It says that people who are in the ninth year of a decade of life (29, 39, 49, etc.) tend to do extreme things that they didn’t consider either before or after that year. In other words, psychologically the approach of an age ending in zero has an effect on a lot of people.

But this article argues that the theory is speculation and isn’t supported by much data. He says the Nine-Enders effect is quite small according to the data and that the media attention is part of what he calls a hype-circle. It’s good advice.

I’m not opposed to this sort of work. I think the age analysis is clever (and I mean that in a good way), and I think it’s great that this sort of thing is being done. But, please, can we chill on the interpretations? And, journalists (both in general and within our scientific societies), please report this with a bit of skepticism? I’m not saying you need to quote an “opponent” of the study, just don’t immediately jump to the idea that the claims are generally valid, just because they happened to appear in a top journal.

Remember, PNAS published the notorious “himmicanes and hurricanes” study.

Remember, the Lancet published the notorious Iraq survey.

Remember, Psychological Science published . . . ummm, I think you know where I’m going here.

Reporting with skepticism does not require “debunking.” It’s just a matter of being open-minded about the possibility that claimed results to not really generalize to the larger populations or questions of interest, in the above case it would imply questioning a claim such as, “We know that the end of a perceived era prompts us to make big life decisions,” which is hardly implied by some data that a bunch of 42-year-olds and 49-year-olds are running marathons.




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