Pop Music Loses Its Appeal When We Turn 33

Music isn't just for young people, but they are more open to immersion. DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

As you move out of your teens and into your 20s and 30s, your musical tastes start to solidify and you likely quit keeping up with popular music.

Now, research has found the average age at which your music library is unlikely to change: 33.

The study's author reached this conclusion by analyzing data on U.S. Spotify users and comparing it to artist population data from music intelligence company The Echo Nest.

"Whether the demands of parenthood and careers mean devoting less time to pop culture, or just because they've succumbed to good old-fashioned taste freeze, music fans beyond a certain age seem to reach a point where their tastes have 'matured'," the study's author writes.

That's why the organizers of the Super Bowl — with a median viewer age of 44 — typically balance the halftime show with two musical options, with a performer who's moving up the charts paired with one aimed at a more mature audience. (Remember how the Super Bowl's younger viewers were hilariously baffled by Missy Elliott's appearance in 2015?) The choices for the upcoming Super Bowl — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — though closer in age, still strike that balance.

To determine the age at which we stop seeking out new tunes, the author gathered self-reported age data from Spotify and looked at users' "Taste Profiles," which tracks how many times listeners have streamed individual artists.

These artists were then matched to their popularity rank on The Echo Nest. For example, as of January, Taylor Swift is the most popular artist while Norah Jones has a popularity rank of about 1,000.

Here's what the research revealed:

The average teen listens almost exclusively to music among the Billboard, the 200 highest-ranking albums in the country, but this music represents a smaller proportion of their streaming as they age. In their teens, they listen to a lot of the same music, over and over again. Frank T. McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College, explains in a post for The Conversation, that's the "mere exposure effect" at work, and it basically means, the more we're exposed to something, the more we like it.

Times change, and so our music sources

A young women sleeps in a chair while listening to music through headphones
In their 30s, women tend to keep up with popular music more than men. Stokkete/Shutterstock

By their mid-30s, the average listener rarely tunes in to popular new music.

Why? The study's author proposes two reasons. First, people begin to listen to less-popular artists that aren't discovered on FM radio.

Second, they often return to the music that defined their own teen years. Instead of listening to One Direction and Taylor Swift, they might start streaming Backstreet Boys and Alanis Morisette.

However, the decline in popular music streaming is much more dramatic for men than for women.

While both men and women listen to mainstream music in their teens, men's pop-music listening drops much faster than women's.

Women demonstrate a steady decline in pop-music listening from the age of 13 to 49, while men's listening drops quickly starting during their teen years until their early 30s.

The study also found that for every age bracket, women are more likely to stream top artists than men, and the study's author reasons that "these days, the top of the charts skew towards female-skewing artists including female solo vocalists, which may contribute to the delta."

There are many reasons why a person may stop streaming the current top musical hits, and the author looked into one by identifying Spotify listeners with large amounts of children's music and nursery rhymes in their libraries. In other words, when users may have become parents.

By inferring which users were "likely parents," the author found that becoming a mother or father has the equivalent impact of aging that person's "music relevancy" by about four years.

But the study concludes with some good news for parents: "If you're getting older and can't find yourself staying as relevant as you used to, have no fear — just wait for your kids to become teenagers, and you'll get exposed to all the popular music of the day once again!"