A new study suggests that “super ager” Joe Biden has a 95% chance of surviving until 2024, and former President Trump a 90% chance. Both are “super-agers”: people with a higher-than-average probability of surviving longer than other men of their age.
The new paper (PDF), published in the Journal on Active Aging, finds that both 2020 presidential candidates are likely to maintain their health beyond the end of the next presidential term. The study, based on publicly available medical records, suggests that each is a “super ager” — a subgroup of people who maintain their mental and physical functioning, and tend to live longer, than the average person their age.
As a result, the study says, chronological age and fitness should not be factors in the 2020 election. “Both candidates face a lower than average risk of experiencing significant health or cognitive functioning challenges during the next four years,” the authors write.
How to be a super ager President: looking at the medical records
To evaluate each candidate’s likelihood of surviving a four-year term in office, the researchers scientifically evaluated the candidates’ health status based on publicly available medical records and confirmed publicly available personal information.
Three medical doctors with experience in aging and a team of research scientists with expertise in epidemiology, public health, survival analysis, and statistics independently evaluated the medical records of each candidate.
This is the first time that the medical records and personal attributes of presidential candidates have been scientifically evaluated by physicians and scientists in the field of aging.
Each “super-ager” has a higher than average probability of surviving a four-year term in office than other men their age. For Biden, the probability of surviving the next four years is 95.2%, vs. the 82.2% average for men his age. For Trump, this figure is 90.3%, vs. the 86.2% average for men his age.
Super ager Biden expected to outlive Trump
The researchers expect Biden to outlive Trump, even though he is three years older. In the paper, the researchers note Biden’s “nearly perfect health profile for a man his age.”
This compares to Trump’s “significant but modifiable” risk factors.
The researchers note that Trump has an elevated familial risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. But they expect that neither candidate will have major cognitive functioning challenges now or during the next four years.
Co-author S. Jay Olshansky said the results are evidence that age does not matter in this historic election. The next elected president will, in either case, be the oldest in American history.
Chronological age vs biological age
“We see chronological age as a topic of discussion time and again during elections, even though scientific and medical evidence tells us that biological age is far more important,” said Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology and biostatics at the UIC School of Public Health.
Biological age is reflective of how rapidly a body grows old — this occurs at different rates, Olshansky said. “Some people can be biologically old at age 50, while others can be biologically young at age 80.”
In prior research, Olshansky conducted the first scientific evaluation of presidential longevity. He sought to understand if being President causes an individual to age more rapidly and die sooner than expected. In that study, Olshansky concluded that most U.S. presidents are super-agers, living beyond the average life expectancy.
The first study to evaluate candidates before the election
“Despite the science, the candidates themselves and their campaigns are still trying to weaponize age,” Olshansky said. “This is certainly the case for both campaigns in 2020. Comments from Biden implying that Trump is ‘mentally deranged’ and Trump’s references to Biden as ‘Sleepy Joe’ suggest that their opponents are too old, are unfit, or are otherwise unable to do the job, based on their age. It’s ageism, pure and simple.”
From Reagan to Buttigieg
In 1984, Ronald Regan, then age 73, was asked about his advanced age. “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” he said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Similarly, when asked about his relative youth in 2019, Pete Buttigieg, then age 37, deflected the question.
“Mayor Buttigieg said it’s the age of the ideas that matter, not the candidate — and I think that was right, too,” Olshansky said.
“We can acknowledge age in an election, but all ages should be valued for the diverse perspectives and experience they bring,” he said.
Study: (PDF) “Projected lifespan and healthspan of Joe Biden and Donald Trump before the 2020 election”
Authors: S. Jay Olshansky, Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, Yang Claire Yang, Yi Li, Nir Barzilai, Paola Rode, Bradley Willcox
Published in: Journal on Active Aging
Publication date: (early access draft version) September 25, 2020
Photo: Wiki Commons