Age and the Presidential Election: Can Biden and Trump Defy the Odds?

Age, wisdom, and decrepitude – these are the complex factors that come into play when considering the presidential election. As Joe Biden and Donald Trump vie for the presidency, their advanced ages have raised questions about their physical and mental capabilities. In this article, we explore the science of aging and its implications for the candidates, examining factors such as lifespan, health risks, cognitive decline, and genetic predisposition. Join us as we delve into the data and speculate whether Biden and Trump can defy the odds and successfully lead the nation. Age and the Presidential Election: Can Biden and Trump Defy the Odds?


Age and Leadership: The Outliers


When it comes to age, both Biden and Trump stand out among American presidents and global leaders. At 78 and 81, respectively, they surpass the average age of their predecessors and counterparts worldwide. According to data from the Pew Research Centre, of the 187 countries analyzed, only eight had leaders older than Biden. This exceptionalism raises questions about the candidates’ ability to endure the demands of the presidency.

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Chart 1: Comparison of Presidential Ages


President Age at Inauguration
Trump 70
Biden 78
Average 54.7


Data Source: The Economist


Lifespan and the Presidency


The impact of the presidency on an individual’s lifespan has been a subject of scientific inquiry. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine conducted a study on head of government elections in 17 countries spanning centuries. They found that winners lived an average of 4.4 fewer years after their last election compared to runners-up who never held the top job. This suggests that the stress and responsibilities of leadership may take a toll on one’s health.


However, it is essential to consider other factors that influence lifespan. One such factor is social hierarchy. Studies, such as the Whitehall studies conducted by Michael Marmot of University College London, have shown that individuals occupying higher social positions tend to have longer lifespans. As presidents, Biden and Trump occupy the pinnacle of the social hierarchy, potentially mitigating some of the negative effects associated with the position.


Chart 2: Lifespan of American Presidents


President Mean Lifespan (Expected) Actual Lifespan
Biden 73.3 73.0
Trump 73.3


Data Source: The Economist

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Health Risks and Vulnerabilities


While lifespan is one aspect to consider, the risk of health events such as heart attacks and strokes increases with age. As Biden and Trump advance in years, the likelihood of these events becomes a cause for concern. Studies have shown that the risk of stroke or heart attack doubles with each passing decade.


Age and Cognitive Decline


Apart from physical health, cognitive decline is a significant concern associated with aging. Two primary threats to the brain emerge with age – specific dementias like Alzheimer’s disease and a general decline in cognitive function. Research has revealed that the clumps of misshapen proteins characteristic of Alzheimer’s can cause harm, even in individuals without a formal diagnosis. Conversely, “super-agers” – individuals blessed with healthy minds and bodies in their later years – tend to have fewer neurofibrillary tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


Wisdom and Cognitive Abilities


While cognitive decline is a reality, it is important to note that the aging process affects different cognitive abilities in distinct ways. Studies by Joshua Hartshorne and Laura Germine suggest that wisdom does increase with age, up to a certain point. Arithmetical and comprehension skills, as well as vocabulary, tend to improve until around the age of 50, after which a decline may occur. However, tasks involving short-term memory and working memory show a steady decline from around the age of 20. These findings highlight the nuanced nature of cognitive aging.


Genetic Predisposition: Are Biden and Trump Super-Agers?


Genetics play a crucial role in how individuals age and their ability to withstand the challenges of old age. Joe Biden and Donald Trump both come from long-lived families, with octogenarian and nonagenarian parents. This familial longevity is a good predictor of an individual’s lifespan. However, other factors must be considered, such as personal health habits and medical history.


Biden’s Genetic Advantage


Joe Biden has a strong genetic advantage when it comes to longevity. His parents lived well into their 80s, indicating a predisposition for a longer lifespan. On the other hand, Trump’s genetic predisposition is less clear. While his father lived to a relatively old age, Trump’s brothers died at ages 42 and 71. Additionally, his father developed Alzheimer’s disease, which can be a concerning factor.


Assessing Survival Probability


Dr. Jay Olshansky, a gerontologist at the University of Illinois, analyzed relevant data and medical records of both candidates during the previous election. Based on this analysis, he concluded that Biden had a 95% chance of surviving the following four years, compared to 82% for a typical man of his age. Trump, despite being younger, had a slightly lower probability of survival at 90%. These assessments take into account various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and medical history.


Senior Moments and Scrutiny

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One aspect often scrutinized in older candidates is their cognitive performance, particularly the occurrence of “senior moments.” These moments, characterized by lapses in memory or confusion, have been observed in both Biden and Trump. However, Dr. Olshansky suggests that some of these incidents may be misrepresented due to relentless scrutiny. For example, when Biden fell off his bicycle, it was attributed to catching his foot in a pedal strap rather than a loss of balance. It is crucial to differentiate normal aging-related incidents from signs of cognitive decline.




As Joe Biden and Donald Trump contest for the presidency, their advanced ages raise legitimate concerns about their physical and mental capabilities. The science of aging provides insights into the potential health risks and cognitive decline associated with old age. However, genetics, personal health habits, and social privilege can also influence an individual’s ability to defy the odds. Ultimately, the voters will decide whether Biden or Trump can successfully navigate the demands of the presidency despite their age.


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