Washed up by 38: Age bias in Silicon Valley fixes the system against healthcare startups

Which demographic is a growth market for plastic surgeons in Silicon Valley? Tech guys in their 40s worried about getting hired. Dr. Seth Matarasso told me that, in ascending order of popularity, the male techies favor laser treatments to clear up broken blood vessels and skin splotches. Next is a treatment called ultherapy—essentially an ultrasound […]

Which demographic is a growth market for plastic surgeons in Silicon Valley?

Tech guys in their 40s worried about getting hired.

Dr. Seth Matarasso told me that, in ascending order of popularity, the male techies favor laser treatments to clear up broken blood vessels and skin splotches. Next is a treatment called ultherapy—essentially an ultrasound that tightens the skin. But, as yet, there is no technology that trumps good old-fashioned toxins, the most common treatment for the men of tech. They will go in for a little Botox between the eyes and around the mouth. Like most overachievers, they are preoccupied with the jugular.


Noam Scheiber
has a hard-to-believe article about the extreme bias among venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, managers, and executives against anyone over 30.

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007.

In talking to dozens of people around Silicon Valley over the past eight months—engineers, entrepreneurs, moneymen, uncomfortably inquisitive cosmetic surgeons – I got the distinct sense that it’s better to be perceived as naïve and immature than to have voted in the 1980s.

The whole article is discouraging and frustrating, but the worst bit is when the healthcare entrepreneur shows up.

When taken to its logical extreme, a tech sector that discriminates in favor of the young might produce an economy with some revolutionary ways of keeping ourselves entertained and in touch at all hours of the day and night. But it would be an economy that shortchanged other essential sectors, like, say, biotech or health care.

Before his thirtieth birthday, Mark Goldenson had already founded two tech start-ups, including an online game-show-playing company, for which he collectively raised more than $20 million. Both promptly failed. Finally, at age 30, he founded a company that helps people locate and receive psychiatric counseling online. It was an idea with potentially enormous social value in a country where millions have unaddressed psychiatric needs, but he never had more trouble raising money. “Sometimes investors … paint with a broad brush,” he told me. “You’re more likely to make a hundred million dollars in another social network than taking a look at a weird tele-health thing.”

Alas, as Goldenson’s experience suggests, the whole premise of youthful innovation isn’t even true. It turns out older people have historically been just as “disruptive” as younger people. A 2005 paper by Benjamin Jones of the National Bureau of Economic Research studied Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics over the past 100 years, as well as the inventors of revolutionary technologies. Jones found that people in their thirties contributed about 40 percent of the innovations, and those in their forties about 30 percent. People over 50 were responsible for 14 percent, the same share as the twentysomethings. Those under the age of 19 were responsible for exactly nothing. One study found that even over the last ten years—the golden age of the prepubescent coder, the youth-obsessed V.C., and the consumer Internet app—the average age of a founder who could claim paternity for a billion-dollar company was a rickety 34.

It’s statistically impossible for all the 20- and 30-somethings with this attitude to succeed so wildly that they can all retire at age 35. Zuckerberg turns 30 next month. Will he bow out of Facebook’s acquisition process because “all his best work is behind him?” The VC preference for “hip and cool” is bad enough, but the ageism is even worse. Maybe once the current group of Gen Y and Millennials are old enough to have health problems, they will recognize their bias and start funding companies that really make a difference – but that’s only if wisdom does come with age.

[Image from flickr user Sam Teigen]