As you get older, your taste in music might change. It’s believed that your taste in music might evolve as you grow and change as a person.
For some people, they begin to like new genres of music, and they might no longer like music they used to love when they were younger. For others, they might only want to listen to music they grew up with, and they might resist listening to new types of music.
Social & Psychological Needs
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that even as music stays an important part of your life, the music you actually like “adapts to the particular life challenges” that you face as you get older.
In other words, your music tastes evolve to address your social and psychological needs. One reason for this is that, when you were younger, you sought out music to find your own identity.
Perhaps this meant you experimented with different musical styles and then listened to that music as a form of expressing your personal identity (who you thought you were and who you wanted to present to the world). Then, as you aged, music became a social vehicle to find social groups, find a mate, and better represent the socioeconomic group you fit into as an adult versus as a teenager.
Changing Personal Identity
A key factor in the development of your musical tastes is the intrinsic need to create your own personal identity, especially when it comes to distinguishing yourself from your parents and their generation.
Paradoxically, as you grow up, you will seek out music that ties you to your own generation. This music, in turn, may seem old and unappealing to your children and their peers.
Most people start using music to carve out their own identity in adolescence, even as early as 10 years old. But it is between the ages of 11 to 17 that finding new music becomes earnestly tied to developing an awareness of self, and we experience visceral awakenings to certain pieces of music we hear.
There is usually a focus on music that is intense, loud, and rebellious by design, like rock music or its many and varied subgenres. There are themes of a strong need to define identity and seek independence from parents and other social structures.
Naturally, this cannot last. The focus on challenging the status quo plateaus in the mid-20s and then gradually tapers off by the late 20s. Past musical taste may get replaced by more contemporary music, such as pop and hip hop, and this can be a sign of accepting the social structures to which your life has led you.
Researchers call this “the next musical age,” where listeners are more focused on music that is emotionally positive. This includes music with romantic themes, as music becomes a key vehicle for finding and celebrating long-term romantic attachments.
New Environments & New Lifestyles
This is also reflected in the setting in which this new music is experienced. You no longer simply listen to the music in a bedroom, but you may go to bars, parties, clubs, and events to experience the music in the company of others and with potential or realized romantic partners. Music becomes less about asserting independence and more about gaining acceptance.
The entry into middle age is the beginning of the final musical age that most people experience, characterized by a move toward music that is simultaneously sophisticated (such as classical music and jazz) and unpretentious (like country and folk music). With the needs of independence and acceptance already met, the last stage of your change in music tastes has more to do with social status and perceived intellect (demonstrating an appreciation for “culturally approved” music, like classical music). So-called unpretentious music, on the other hand, reflects a turn toward family, long-term stability, and contentment in life.
The music here tends to be more emotionally direct, addressing the experiences of adulthood love and loss that most listeners would be able to relate to by this point in their lives. This is the music of having a job, making house payments, and seeing your kids off to college. This is also the music for people who are tired out by the demands of family and work life, who want non-challenging music that they can use to rest and reflect.
The researchers concluded that music preferences are strongly associated with personality, age, and status in life. As a result, your taste in music changes over time.
Technology’s Impact on Changing Music Tastes
Another reason our musical taste changes is because of all the different ways music can be consumed now. While your parents may have listened to vinyl records or audio cassettes in a fixed location, you can stream music on a song-by-song basis, no longer having to make the time or financial commitment to buy an entire album. “You can listen to everything,” says one music researcher talking to Business Insider.
The researcher, who authored a study of 1,000 Deezer users in the United Kingdom, found that most people tend to be more adventurous in discovering new music in their mid-20s. However, past the age of 25 people report being less interested in keeping up with new music and new artists.
Some reasons for this decline in interest are attributed to being overwhelmed by the amount of music available to consume (one downside to streaming apps offering unlimited musical selections at the touch of a finger). The UK & Ireland music editor for Deezer said that this plethora of choice made people “paralyzed” in their musical tastes, leading listeners to revert to comfortable music by the time they hit their 30s.
Too Tired to Find New Music
This corresponds to the aforementioned life changes that most people go through in their 30s. People in that age range report that having a demanding job or being parents of young children stripped them of the drive to look for new music instead preferring to restore their strength by listening to familiar songs.
That said, half the people in the UK study reported wishing that they had time and energy to spend on discovering new music.
A review of data from a sample of American Spotify users suggested that when listeners reached the age of 33, “it was more likely they’d never listen to new music again.”
Nostalgic for Comfortable Music
A competing reason put forward by other researchers is that people are simply more nostalgic for the music that reminds them of when they were younger. A study published in the Psychology of Music journal argued that the mental health benefits of listening to music that reminds listeners of happier times is what compels them to cling to that music instead of discovering new music and changing their tastes.
Memory, youth, and the past are powerful drivers of what anchors your taste in music and what will determine your future tastes. It is well known that listening to beloved songs stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. The more you like a song, the more dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin are released.
This process can happen at any age, but it is much more pronounced during adolescence when the brain goes through intense changes. Discovering a song during these foundationally developmental years means the song is more likely to stay with you forever than if you were to discover an equally meaningful song later in life.
In other words, you may hear another amazing piece of music in your 30s and your 40s, but it will not impact you in the same way that your favorite song did when you were a teenager.
If you change your music tastes in your 30s and beyond, say the study authors, it’s unlikely that you will jump into completely new genres. Rather, you will more likely delve deeper into the genres that were imprinted on you when you were a teenager.
If you enjoyed hip-hop at age 14, for example, it’s probable that you’d still enjoy-hip hop into your adulthood. But the hip-hop artists you’d listen to may be more complex and mature than the hip-hop artists you listened to as an adolescent.
In this way, even as your music tastes may not shift too much over time, the scope of the music you like generally narrows as you get older to better fit your psychosocial needs.
Musical Ages: How Our Taste in Music Changes Over a Lifetime. (October 2013). Science Daily.
Is This Your Song? The Science Behind What Determines Your Taste in Music. (July 2014). Elite Daily.
Music Through The Ages: Trends in Musical Engagement and Preferences From Adolescence Through Middle Adulthood. (2013). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
A Musicologist Explains the Science Behind Your Taste in Music. (June 2019). NBC News.
We Stop Discovering New Music at Age 30, A New Survey Suggests — Here Are the Scientific Reasons Why This Could Be. (June 2018). Business Insider.
The Psychological Benefits of Music-evoked Nostalgia. (December 2021). Psychology of Music.
Is 14 a ‘Magic Age’ for Forming Cultural Tastes? (May 2011). The New York Times.
Why Your Music Taste Changes When You Hit 30. (June 2018). Harper’s Bazaar.