Thursday, September 19, 2019

Should Chronological Age Be A Factor In Deciding Someone Is Too Old To Be President?

The American Federation on Aging Research (AFAR) released a white paper, Longevity and Health of
U.S. Presidential Candidates for the 2020 Election:  White paper from the American Federation for Aging Research. Here is the abstract from the white paper:

Abstract: The oldest person ever elected president of the U.S. could take office in 2021 – but questions about the health and longevity prospects of presidential candidates are now relevant given the advanced age of many of the candidates. In the absence of medical records, assessing health, longevity, and survival prospects for candidates requires the use of data from national vital statistics. Here we estimate the lifespan, healthspan, disabled lifespan, and four-year survival probabilities for U.S. citizens that match the attributes of all of the candidates and the sitting president for the next two election cycles. Results suggest that chronological age should not be a relevant factor in the forthcoming election.

There has been some discussion about the age of candidates, so it's interesting to think about the research on the topic, and it can be a useful tool for a discussion with students. Here's the conclusion to the report:


Dr. David Scheiner stated that it is not acceptable to take the word of candidates or sitting presidents that they are healthy, and therefore candidates should make their medical records public so voters can make decisions based on a full disclosure of any medical conditions. At one level this makes sense because harboring a lethal condition that could lead to death while in office, might influence how people vote -- or at the least, lead voters to pay more attention to the choice for vice president. Yet, if a candidate is healthy today, it is unclear whether future health status should ever be a criterion used to judge a presidential candidate. The voting public and legal scholars need to weigh in on whether or not medical records should be required to be disclosed by candidates or a sitting president.

With regard to the relevance of age in deciding whom to vote for, estimates of healthspanr ealistically suggest that some of the presidential candidates are at a higher risk of experiencing some level of frailty and disability during a first or second term in office because they are older.

Health and longevity challenges are closer for candidates now in their 70s relative to those younger because age is an established risk factor for fatal and disabling conditions; but despite this, many survive to their 80s and 90s with their mental and physical capacities largely intact. Without an ability to know in advance who among the candidates might fall into this category, chronological age itself should not be used as a sole disqualifier to run for or become president.

If the lower limit of age 35 was chosen by America’s founding fathers because they envisioned the presidency requiring the experience, maturity, and wisdom that comes with age; or that time allows the voting public to make judgments based on a candidate’s established track record; then one could make the case that the most qualified among the available candidates are older. Given the favorable health and longevity trajectories of almost all of the presidential candidates relative to the average member of the same age and gender group in the U.S., and the apparent current good health of all of the candidates, there is reason to question whether age should be used at all in making judgments about prospective presidential candidates.

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