Jay Olshansky, Ph.D. Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics School of Public Health University of Illinois Chicago Chicago, Illinois

Should Age Matter When Choosing a Candidate for President?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jay Olshansky, Ph.D. Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics School of Public Health University of Illinois Chicago Chicago, Illinois

Dr. Olshansky

Jay Olshansky, Ph.D.
Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
School of Public Health University of Illinois Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: In 2011 I published the first scientific evaluation of the observed longevity of all of the U.S. presidents. Since then, I’ve been contacted by the media every four years to comment on the ages of the presidential candidates. This is relevant because the number of older candidates is on the rise, and their ages are getting higher. A reporter from the Washington Examiner contacted me this time around to comment once again, and wanted to know whether I was planning on doing another analysis. When I looked at the list of candidates that were much older this time around, I thought it would be a good idea to see what science had to say about the health and longevity prospects of all of the candidates. This way we could at least offer a scientific explanation of whether age should be relevant at all when choosing a presidential candidate.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

The increase in the number of older candidates is a good sign as it’s a reflection of the rising longevity and health of the older population in general.

  1. It is possible, perhaps likely, that the oldest person ever elected president will be elected next year.
  2. The average age of the candidates is 58.4 years; youngest 37, oldest 89.
  3. Average projected lifespan is 23 years; 7 oldest is 10.7 years; 7 youngest is 39.5 years.
  4. Projected healthspan is extremely high for everyone.
  5. Projected disabled lifespan is extremely low for everyone.
  6. Average projected 4-year survival probability is about 89%; highest is 99%; lowest is 48%. 8 of 9 oldest candidates have a 4-year survival of 81%. This means less than a 20% chance of death while in office.
  7. Should there be an upper age limit beyond which no one should be allowed to run for president?  Absolutely not! It is possible, perhaps likely, that many of these older candidates are “superagers” — defined as people that reach older ages that are cognitively functioning at the level of a much younger person.
  8. Should the age of candidates be a factor in presidential elections? No, their chronological age should be irrelevant — it’s their health that’s important. This leads to question as to whether presidential candidates and sitting presidents should be expected to reveal their medical records.
  9. It is unfortunate that age has been weaponized during presidential campaigns?
  10. If our founding fathers decided that a minimum age is required to become president, and that was done to ensure that someone with experience would occupy the white house, then one could easily make the case that the older candidates are perhaps the most qualified for the job.

Bottom line: There is no scientific evidence to suggest that chronological age should be a disqualifying factor when considering a presidential candidate. With one exception, the survival and health prospects for all of the candidates now running for office are extremely high.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Chronological age is just a number — what’s really important are the ideas that the candidates bring to the table, not their number of years alive. As voters we do need to pay close attention to the health status (not longevity prospects) of the candidates, so it would be desirable if the candidates could provide an independent assessment of their health with a focus on cognitive health. Whether this should be required is a matter for legal scholars to address.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: What I’m planning on doing is updating these more generic estimates with more personalized estimate of health and longevity if any of the candidates decide to make their medical records public.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: All presidential candidates experience a grueling daily schedule prior to the election, and this intense experience can be challenging to anyone — regardless of their age. Don’t be surprised if candidates seem tired at times as this is a normal byproduct of a difficult travel and speaking schedule — this will occur for candidates of any age. The fact that this occurs on occasion should not be interpreted as a sign of old age; it certainly should not be turned into a weapon against the candidates; and frankly, it is impressive just how well all of the candidates are capable of handling the intense pressure associated with running for president.

Disclosure: I am chief scientist at Lapetus Solutions — a company that focuses, in part, on using methods of science to assess longevity and health risks for individuals.


Longevity and Health of U.S. Presidential Candidates for the 2020 Election: White paper from the American Federation for Aging Research

Jay Olshansky, Ph.D.,1* Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, Ph.D.,2 Bruce A. Carnes, Ph.D.,3 Yang Claire Yang, Ph.D.,4 Yi Li, Ph.D.,5 Bradley Willcox, M.D.6


Jul 27, 2019 @ 1:01 pm




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