Are You a 9-ender? Make Good Use of Reaching the End of a Life Decade
“Someone who is forty-nine is about three times more likely to run a marathon than someone who’s just a year older.”
– Daniel Pink, When; The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
Likewise, twenty-nine-year olds are about twice as likely to run a marathon as twenty-eight-year olds or thirty-year-olds. And, according to the same study done by social scientists Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield, people who are at the end of a life decade (e.g. 29, 39, 49) are overrepresented among first-time marathoners by a whopping 48%.
Now, I personally have zero interest in running a marathon. But I am intrigued by the idea that when a person’s age nears the end of a life decade, the research suggests that they tend to crank up their efforts a bit in the old goals department.
I was reading about this phenomenon in Daniel Pink’s insightful new book, When; The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Social psychologists Alter and Hershfield actually came up with the term “9-enders” to describe people in the last year of a life decade.
“Reaching the end of a decade,” Pink explains, “somehow rattles people’s thinking and redirects their actions.”
Or, put another way (pardon my language): 9-enders get shit done.
Mind you, what one gets done in the home stretch of a life decade isn’t always for the best. Alter and Hershfield’s research also discovered that the suicide rate was higher for 9-enders than it was for people whose ages ended in any other digit.
Likewise with cheating: on the Ashley Madison extramarital-affair website, nearly one in 8 men were 29, 39, 49 or 59…which is about 8% higher than chance would predict.
Alter and Hershfield admit the energizing effect of the end of a decade doesn’t make logical sense. “The earth doesn’t care about keeping track of our age,” they say. “But people do because we have short lives. We keep track to see how we are doing.”
Pink suggests that “What the end of a decade seems to trigger, for good and for ill, is a reenergized pursuit of significance.”
When I thought back to what my 49th year held for me, I couldn’t help but wonder if these guys were on to something. Three months after I turned 49 (in 2017), I finally sold the home I’d been living in (and griping about) for 7 years, put my belongings into storage and hit the road with my dog for months. I’m still on the road.
When my mom turned 49 (in 1974), she divorced my father after 18 years of marriage and proceeded to raise 4 kids on her own.
How about you? Has a significant year of your life been at an age that ended with 9?
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life.