Why Do Young People Take More Risks Than Old People?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Young people have more years to live, so they should be more careful about doing something now that could get them killed.

In a speech once I said, "Youth dare the things age will fear." I wonder why (besides chemical reasons).

9 comments on “Why Do Young People Take More Risks Than Old People?
  • Family, other people depending on you is a big enough deterrent.

    But I think most decisions we make will not be on the magnitude of risking our life.. but often risking or comfort level, wealth .. etc.

    Those are the types of losses you can make up for if you’re young, less so later, so I think it’s only natural that are willingness to risk declines with age.

    Another approach is simply the level of experience. Experience tends to tamper experimentation, risk-taking – which is why babies are not afraid of anything.. they don’t have knowledge of danger.

  • I suppose the opposite could be argued as well. Older people have lived and gained a lot more in their lives, arguably, so perhaps they have more to lose?

  • One reason that older people take fewer risks is that risk takers don’t get old.

    At 50 years older than Ben, a quarter of my contempories are gone. The fraternity brother who ate and drank too much, one who self medicated, another who drove
    carelessly and the friend of 25 years who ignored his doctor’s warnings are gone, leaving only us
    non risk takers.

  • There was an article in the local paper recently (Tampa Tribune) that summarized a research study about this topic. They found that there was a part of the brain that developed after the teen years that effected risk taking. This is why teenagers can be as intelligent as adults but are generally more willing to take risk.

    I’ve taken up motocross at age 33 (my son started racing so I thought I’d try it with him). I can tell you unequivocally that 15-18 year olds are much more willing to try something beyond their riding ability than people plus 30! Many of the reason cited by previous comments apply (careers that took years to build, families dependent on them etc).

  • I disagree with the previous statement. I know PLENTY of adults that have told me that they did drugs when they were younger or skydived or rode motercycles and certainly are alive today.

    I think that the main two reasons for this are that: we have less responsibilties (as Zoli said), so our family and kids don’t depend on us, and that many young people feel invicible to a certain extent. I have seen that attitude among a lot of people my age and myself on occasion.

  • I think this is linked to the bell curve theory. Assume, if you will, everyone starts out at the bottom of the curve, this represents point of highest risk. Then, as time moves on, as you advance in the bell curve, your risk tolerance begins to decrease. As you get older, you definitely become more conservative (be it family, mortgage, money, career, etc). The height of the bell curve should represent mid-life (time) and point of lowest risk tolerance. As you descend the bell curve, your tolerance for risk once again increases with age (time). When your kids are grown, you’re financially secure, the mortgate is paid off. That’s when you decide to buy a harley on your 65th birthday.

  • To expand on Kris’ post – It seems to me that two major points influence this phenomenon. As you age you normally gain responsibility in the form of spose, children, and mortgage. My own dad has turned down offers to do fun yet risky behaviors (like skydiving or participating in cool new startups) saying he would feel selfish to risk his families welfare on his own enjoyment. That reason strikes me as logical, however I think there is a secondary cause as well, an earlier post mentioned that the risk takers die off, natural selection at its ugliest… While certainly risk-takers are more likely to die, the majority of them do not. However as some do die off it reinforces the idea of mortality into some inflated heads. Have a friend die in a drunk driving accident and you probably won’t drink and drive, goto your grandma’s funeral after she suffers of lung cancer and cigarettes look less appealing, see your friend go bankrupt and lose his house makes your “boring” job fun again find a loved one living in a slum addicted to herion and you will want to say no to drugs. It seems to me that as you get older and wiser you realize you’re not invincible and begin to act like you might die someday.

  • One factor that nobody has mentioned is biology. If you pay close attention it is not young people who take the most risks, it is young MEN who tend to take the most risks. This is true not only of humans, but of many other species. Males engage in risky behaviors in order to attract the females. This is nature’s way of ensuring that the best genes survive. One woman has at most 30 chances of reproducing in a lifetime, so they have to be very careful on where they spend those 30 chances, and thus they are naturally selective. One man could father an unlimited number of children, so men are less selective. This means that the supply of sperm vastly exceeds that demanded by the available eggs. So men have to compete and show off their fitness by displaying behaviors that might get them killed(think of the tail of the male peacock, it is pretty, but not very conducive to the survival of its carrier). In a monogamous society eventually most men pair up, and once that happens taking on risk doesn’t seem as attractive any more.

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