35 or Bust: The New Earnings Potential Cutoff

35 or Bust: The New Earnings Potential Cutoff

There are lots of great ways to spend your 20s and early 30s.

You could date around and figure out the traits you value in a life partner. You could travel the world because you’re still unencumbered by kids and a mortgage.


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Or you could throw yourself into your career in an effort to achieve the highest possible salary you can.

Follow that last agenda, and your future self may thank you. That’s because, according to new research, the bulk of income growth generally occurs between ages 25 and 35.

For the study, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looked at Social Security Administration data of American men between 1978 and 2010. Results showed that the worker who earns the median lifetime amount can expect his salary to increase 38% between ages 25 and 55.

But nearly all of that growth happens in the first decade of employment. In fact, after age 45, earnings tend to decline slightly, possibly because people start working less.

The only group exempt from these trends? The wealthy.

The study found that Americans in the top 10% of earners continue to see salary upticks even after their mid-30s, and those in the top 2% see salary increases even after their mid-40s.

Fortunately, the study also reveals a bright spot for middle-income earners. Apparently, they’re less likely than high earners to experience “shocks,” or sudden changes to their income. Moreover, when their salary does change significantly, it’s probably increasing.

Of course, it’s still possible to boost your earnings at any point in your career. If you feel like you’re stuck at a less-than-desirable salary, find out how to petition for (and score!) a pay raise.


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