Does Time Move Faster as We Age?

Most of us above a certain age can testify that time seems to move faster as we age.   As a kid, a 15-minute drive seemingly takes hours and the last few days before Christmas seem to take years to pass.  In middle age, you can’t believe how fast the last twenty years flew by.  But a new study suggests that age isn’t the primary factor at work.

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest Blog:

Time gets faster the older you are. Or does it? When William Friedman and Steve Janssen asked 49 New Zealand undergrads (average age 21) and 50 older adults (average age 68) to say how fast time passed for them, including the last week, month and year, very few differences emerged. Most participants felt time passed quickly but it was only when considering the speed of the last ten years that the older adults said time had gone by more quickly than the younger participants, and even here the effect of age was small.

This finding, and another like it involving German and Austrian participants published in 2005, casts doubt on some of the classic explanations for time speeding up with age, including William James’ suggestion that time feels slower when younger because it is packed with more memorable events. If true, you’d expect the effect to apply over time periods shorter than ten years.

Friedman and Janssen’s initial study also undermined a novel explanation for time speeding up known as ‘telescoping’. This is the idea that time feels faster when we look back on past events and discover that we underestimated how long ago they occurred. Earlier in the study, the researchers had asked their participants to estimate when 12 newsworthy events from the past had occurred, including Saddam Hussein’s capture in 2003. By giving them false feedback on their accuracy, the researchers exaggerated or reduced the telescoping effect but this didn’t have any effect on participants’ subsequent ratings of how fast time goes by.

A second study, conducted on the internet, tested a novel explanation for time seeming faster to some people than others: feeling rushed. Nearly two thousand Dutch participants aged between 16 and 80 rated the speed of time and how rushed they felt in life. Once again, very few age differences emerged, with only the ten-year period being judged to have passed more quickly by older participants.

Age accounted for four per cent of the variance in how quickly participants said the last ten years had passed and just one per cent of the perception of time’s speed in general. By contrast, how busy and rushed people reported feeling accounted for ten per cent of the variance in subjective speed of time. Consistent with this, women reported feeling more rushed than men, on average, and they perceived time to go by more quickly.

Quite why the idea that time speeds up with age is so widely believed requires further study, the researchers said.

Hello!  It took me one quick read of this summary (at Andrew Sullivan‘s place) to get the connection:  Most of us are a hell of a lot busier in our 40s than we were in our 20s.

Sure, college is stressful.  And so is getting started in one’s career.  But the demands on one’s time pile up in one’s 30s, 40s, and 50s.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. tom p says:

    When one is 5, a week is 1/260th of ones life. When one is 40 a week is 1/2080th of ones life. When one is 70, a week is 1/3640th of ones life.

    Perception is everything.

    (don’t know where I read this, so I can’t give credit)

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Nah. I think it’s relativity. I move slower as I age.

  3. danny says:

    time is actually speeding up.

    our galaxy is speeding up and so is the entire universe.

    the energy source of for this is not completely understood, but the current explanations involve black energy and black matter.

    that’s the truth.

    it’s not just experiential and perceptual and psychological (as the first commenter explained).

    it is real.

  4. sam says:

    In middle age, you can’t believe how fast the last twenty years flew by

    Too true. One day you wake up and be 50 and ask yourself, “How the hell did that happen?”

    As for time getting faster, I dunno. Maybe the thought that the end is a lot nearer at 69 than it was at 25 makes it appear to move faster.

  5. I think I agree with Sam, the closer you get to the end the more aware you are of it, with more and more doors closed. At 20, you are only vaguely aware of getting old. At 50, it’s just around the corner, if not seemingly already here as concessions to age become more frequent with reading glasses, less strenuous physical activity, etc. It isn’t so much the past telescoping as it is the future shrinking.

  6. John425 says:

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

  7. Drew says:

    Age is primarily a state of mind. Antone want to join my rock band?

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I meant to comment when this post first went up. Now I see that seven weeks have gone by.

  9. JKB says:

    When you’re young, you have many desirable milestones that seem to take forever to arrive. In your 30s and 40s, you have work deadlines that come long before you’re ready. Not to mention, after the kid arrives, you have a rapidly rising sight line to mark the passage of time.

  10. Franklin says:

    I agree with every comment in this thread, and yeah sure I’ll join Drew’s rock band. I’ve got an explorer-shaped bass that hasn’t seen the light of day in 12 years.

  11. tom p says:

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.


    Got my laugh for the day.