Adult murine neural stem cells (NSCs) generate neurons in drastically declining numbers with age. How cellular dynamics sustain neurogenesis and how alterations with age may result in this decline are unresolved issues. We therefore clonally traced NSC lineages using confetti reporters in young and middle-aged adult mice. To understand the underlying mechanisms, we derived mathematical models that explain observed clonal cell type abundances. The best models consistently show self-renewal of transit-amplifying progenitors and rapid neuroblast cell cycle exit. In middle-aged mice, we identified an increased probability of asymmetric stem cell divisions at the expense of symmetric differentiation, accompanied by an extended persistence of quiescence between activation phases. Our model explains existing longitudinal population data and identifies particular cellular properties underlying adult NSC homeostasis and the aging of this stem cell compartment.