American society is obsessed with youth, I don't think I am making a stretch there. I wonder though, if academia is similar in overvaluing youth compared to "experience." I honestly don't know, but I'll put forward some of my experiences and ask the Scholastica Community.
When I came to OSU's History graduate school straight from undergrad at 22, there were about 10 grad students there (all women and one man, now that I think about it), over the age of 45. They were serving as TAs, holding office hours at their cubicles in our large shared offices, and taking courses. (Note: At that time, OSU Grad History did not allow students to "pay their own way" unless they needed an additional quarter to defend their dissertation--you had to be funded by the department, somewhere else in the university, or an outside fellowship)
While I thought then that they would suffer significant discrimination in the academic job search (would a university want to hire someone who might be tenured for less than a decade before retirement?), I eventually realized that some of them didn't really care about the future of the job, and loved being grad students. I saw it as a very old-school way to approach learning, truly learning for learning's sake, and not as concerned with future ramifications. Unfortunately for them, I think that is not very appreciated in most fields of academia.
They were a welcomed part of our community until the "big crunch" hit in 2007, where dwindling history enrollments and the burgeoning economic crisis forced the department to make some cuts. In Fall 2007, they were all gone. I remember one was able to push through a dissertation over the summer, and I think two more came back to finish in the meantime.
At the other end, in all of the job searches I've been a part of, older candidates straight from grad school or teaching at a community college or branch campus generally did not get the light of day. While I know that there are non-academic jobs available to many graduates, there is clearly age discrimination in many of those fields, so I'll leave that option out.
So, after some rambling, my question is in the current academic model, is there a place (besides a token one) for someone starting the journey after the age of 40? Assuming you started your professional academic life in your 20s, knowing you what you know now -- would you start it in your 40s? Would you only start it if you were financially independent (to say nothing of the "class" ramifications that many academics struggle with professionally and academically)? What advice would you give a 45 year old who wanted to start an academic journey like the one you are on?