10 amazing things that happen in your 30s, according to science

Anna Brech

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Your 30s is the time you finally become a grown-up, according to new research.

Academics from Cambridge University say the transition to becoming a fully-fledged adult is far more nuanced than we believe.

Changes in the brain and nervous system continue to occur well past 18 – the formal marker of adulthood – meaning the average person doesn’t hit maturity (in cerebral terms) until they reach 30 or beyond.

Which may explain why, aged 23, we thought it was a great idea to down eight vodka and Red Bulls on a school night…

Here are ten other magical things that kick in during your third decade of life, according to science:

You reach your cognitive peak


Taking risks is the key to success

It’s a myth that 20-somethings have all the smarts. They’re simply more loud and reactive about it.

But beneath the bluster, the 20s mind has nothing on its 30s equivalent – which is busy working up a storm of enduring intellectual power.

For one thing, your ability to recognise faces peaks aged 32.

This is a skill none of us thinks that much about, but it’s actually quite niche and variable. In fact, some scientists consider it to be a super power that taps a unique system within the human brain.

Then there’s chess. A 2011 paper found that chess grandmasters become most successful aged 31. Problem solving, abstract thinking, strategy and determination: all come into their own.

You may become a genius

Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia jumping picture

If you’re wondering why you haven’t become the 21st Century answer to Einstein yet, hold that thought – it’s simply a matter of timing.

A 2014 paper from America’s National Bureau of Economic Research shows that scientific genius peaks in your mid to late 30s.

The majority of famous inventors and scientists achieved their career breakthroughs in this period, the economists found.

Read more: Why you should embrace group travel in your 40s

Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for her work on radioactivity (along with her husband Pierre) aged 36, and Sigmund Freud coined the term “psychoanalysis” just shy of his 40th birthday.

Henry Ford was an almost identical age when he founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit back in 1903.

Why your 30s? Researchers say it’s because you’ve picked up enough info in your field at this point, but also have just enough life experience to question assumed beliefs.

That means you can master the kind of radical leap needed to form ground-breaking new ideas. Easy.

You’ll be happier than ever before

Yep, that elusive nectar that is lifetime happiness hits its zenith in your 30s.

One study found people don’t feel truly happy until the age of 33, due to a combination of living in the moment and worrying less.

Around 70% of those surveyed hit their happiness peak then, compared to 6% in college years and 16% in childhood.

Over half of us believe life is more fun in our early 30s. It’s a stage that heralds in more optimism and less stress than before (probably because we’ve learnt not to care so much).

“By this age innocence has been lost, but our sense of reality is mixed with a strong sense of hope, a ‘can do’ spirit, and a healthy belief in our own talents and abilities,” says psychologist Donna Dawson. “We have yet to develop the cynicism and world-weariness that comes with later years.”

You develop friends for life

They say you make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime. And this latter category comes into its own in your 30s.

A 2015 study in the journal Psychology and Aging found that we tend to whittle down our social networks aged 30 and beyond; but the friendships that last are typically higher-quality and more enduring.

Using data from the 30-year study, researchers says we invest more effort in the pals who matter to us in our 30s: our circles shift from quantity to quality.

Read more: Grown-up life goals that are totally overrated

In part, this is because we know ourselves better in life’s third decade.

So friendships are less about cultivating a particular identity (a means of trying on different versions of you) and more to do with long-lasting social goals around connection and meaning.

“The amount of people and the effort we spend on people in the network are more concentrated,” says psychiatry professor Paul Duberstein, of the University of Rochester in New York.

Even the sex is better

When it comes to good sex, it’s all about quality over quantity.

And where you might spend your 20s playing for adventure, your 30s herald the start of something altogether more satisfying.

Research shows that 36 and over is the prime age for women experiencing the perfect orgasm.

Those in their mid-30s or above enjoy more frequent and better climaxes, and also feel more confident about their bodies.

For men, meanwhile, the 30s is a time for equal pleasure compared to their 20s, but a slight dip in testosterone means better control of their sexual desires.

Your 30s is also the time when depth and quality of connection with your partner starts to pay dividends.

Your endurance fitness is off the scale

For short, sharp bursts of activity – sprinting, say, or 100-metre swimming – youngsters have the upper hand. But this truism does a neat head-flip when it comes to endurance fitness.

Your 30s are a golden time when your strength, oxygen efficiency and coordination come together, meaning optimal performance for the sharp end of sport.

Forget your wimpy 10k: athletes in their 30s typically perform best in gruelling long-distance triathlons and ultra-running contests.

Read more: The most friendly towns and cities for solo travel and remote working

Women aged 37 and men aged 39 are most likely to finish in the top ten of 100-million marathons, according to one study that examined performance in such races over a period of 13 years.

Another survey of over 19,000 competitors in Ironman Switzerland (a punishing challenge featuring a 112-mile bike ride, 26-mile run and 2.4-mile swim) found men reached their peak at 31, and women at 36.

You earn more and are happier at work

career break

In your 20s, you slave away with long hours and minimal pay, but your 30s are a time when all that hard work starts to pay off.

A study shows that women’s pay peaks aged 39, at around the £46,000 mark. Really, this is a depressing sign of the gaping gender pay gap that still persists, since men’s salaries continue to grow until the age of 48, with an average pay packet of £73,000.

But at least it is evidence that your earnings will jump in your 30s, and with that comes career satisfaction, too.

Studies show that the happiness we feel in our 30s is partly down to excelling at work. This is a time when we’re bringing home promotions, becoming more skilled and developing our careers in a direction of long-term happiness.

Often this means radical changes, such as becoming a digital nomad. But again, in our 30s, we have the confidence to go against the status quo.

You’re on the cusp of start-up success

We tend to think of start-ups as a youthful game. It’s all about 22-year-olds earning an overnight fortune on the back of their slick fintech concept.

But data collected by the US Census Bureau found that, contrary to common belief, the average age of a successful start-up tech founder is 45 years old.

What’s more, a 40-year-old entrepreneur is over twice as likely to find success as a 25-year-old: mainly because they have greater experience to execute ideas and make strategies come alive.

Read more: Being single gets more satisfying with age

That means in your 30s, everything is falling into place to give your start-up dream wings.

Radha Vyas (above), who co-founded Flash Pack with Lee Thompson aged 33, knows this well.

“The timing was just right,” she says. “I was much more confident, with a bit of money to invest, and the life experience under my belt to move things forward.”

Holidays become more satisfying

group of people white water rafting in croatia

Poolside drinking has its time but there comes a point when you want something more.

A 2017 survey showed that 31 is the age that we truly begin to enjoy holidays – primarily because the emphasis switches from party time to meaningful experiences.

Instead of ticking off the sights while nursing a hangover – a rookie travel mistake – 30-somethings do their homework, typically aiming for activities that are more off-radar, and locally orientated.

Another study found that adventurers in their 30s are more likely to scrupulously research their trip, and stay in high-end hotels.

It’s prime time to take an adult gap year

Forget backpacking around South-East Asia as a perky 18-year-old.

It’s almost two decades later – age 37 – that most people believe is the best time to take time out travelling, according to a survey last year.

Respondents said this was the age you were most likely to get benefit out of visiting bucket-list destinations, such as Machu Picchu or the Great Wall of China.

Read more: 18 moments of adventure travel you don’t want to miss

Again, this probably comes down to being more discerning about how and why you head abroad.

“Beaches and tree bars were the most interesting part of travel once, but suddenly, learning about the baroque architecture of Havana, the ancient ruins of Mexico, and the plantations of the Caribbean is what really excites us,” say 30-something Canadian duo Nick and Dairiece, of the travel blog Goats on the Road.

“We used to travel a little bit on the reckless side… these days, we’re more careful of our belongings, and our well-being – if there’s a choice!”

Tempted? Here’s where to start your grown-up gap year

Hang loose in Bali

Try your hand at anti-gravity yoga in the jungle hills of Ubud, come trekking up a live volcano at sunrise and spend three days chilling on the idyllic traffic-free island of Gili Air.

Take me there

Get partying in Colombia

Learn how to work some salsa moves over rum tastings in colourful Cartagena, tube down Palomino River and spend a blissful day jetting between the beaches of the Rosario Islands by private boat.

Oh, happy days

Say hi to the wildlife of South Africa

Swim with playful seals, spy out meerkats at dawn in the arid desert landscape and join us whale-watching in one of the finest spots in the world. Plus, a jaw-dropping safari across the Eastern Cape.

I’m ready to roll

Photos: Movie Stills Database, Shutterstock, Flash Pack

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