At one year of the constitutional age limit to be President of the United States, at 34, Finland’s Sanna Marin is the youngest sitting Prime Minister in the world. New Zealander Jacina Ardern is 39, Nayib Bukele of El Salvador is 38 and Oleksiy Honcharuk of Ukraine is only 35.
On the world stage of politics and activism, youth seem to be having a moment. Malala Yousafzai is one of the main advocates for the education of women and girls at 22 years old. A group of high school students are leading the charge on gun law reform in the United States and the world’s best-known climate activist is Greta Thunberg, 17. Sweden.
Older adults are better at pattern matching – to see common threads of what young adults might see as unrelated or disparate events. This gives older people a better ability to predict outcomes and solve problems.
Presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard are both 38 and are vying for the next politicians in their 30s to take on leadership roles. On the other end of the spectrum, Elizabeth Warren is 70 years old. Donald Trump is 73 years old. Joe Biden is 77 years old. Bernie Sanders is 78 years old. These candidates form the age group of presidential candidates. As a neuroscientist, people ask me “how old is too old to be president?”
Aging researchers (those who study aging, not those who are necessarily old themselves!) Distinguish between chronological age and physiological age. Chronological age is simply how long you have lived. Physiological age is a more subtle concept that reflects the various life events, stressors, and illnesses you may have had.
We all know of older adults who barely seem to show the effects of aging (like Jane Fonda, 82, Jane Goodall, 85, or George Shultz, 99), and others whose bodies seemingly fail in their fifties or fifties. in their 60s (like John Ritter and Nell Carter, both of whom died of heart failure at age 54). Chronological age can be misleading.
Take President Kennedy, who suffered from Addison’s disease, and served from 43 to 46 years. Kennedy suffered almost every day of his presidency, and for the first six months alone, Kennedy suffered from stomach, colon and prostate problems, spastic colitis, fevers, dehydration, abscesses, insomnia, and high cholesterol ( greater than 300).
During his short term, he took testosterone, high doses of antibiotics, hydrocortisone, antispasmotics, barbiturates, amphetamines, antihistamines, procaine for back pain, and an antipsychotic (although only for a few days). It would be reasonable to assume that he missed a great number of days of work and that he lacked the “vigah” that his image projected.
Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919 at the relatively young age of 63, and he remained unfit for the final years of his presidency. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency has been plagued by missed days due to illness. During his tenure, Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack (aged 62), developed Crohn’s disease and suffered a stroke. So clearly chronological age isn’t the whole story.
Today we tend to adopt a societal narrative that the human brain grows and learns from birth to a certain point (60? 65? 70?) And then begins a steep and precipitous decline. Old age, in this story, is a time of inevitable loss of function, decay, and disease.
But this narrative has not kept pace with medical science. From a neural standpoint, there is no reason that an elderly person should not be as efficient as a young adult. We are living longer and healthier lives than at any time in history, and most older people will see improvements in some areas.
In particular, older adults do better pattern match – seeing the common threads of what young adults might view as unrelated or disparate events. This gives older people a better ability to predict outcomes and solve problems, especially those that involve interpersonal conflict – this is because older adults, as a group, also experience an increase in compassion, tolerance and empathy. Together we could call them wisdom.
Organizational behavior research on the science of problem solving and productivity shows that diversity gives competitive advantage. Workgroups and teams made up of people from diverse backgrounds – races, ethnicities, gender, skills, religions and, yes, age – are best at a range of problem-solving tasks and tend to come up with more innovative solutions. .
Young adults learn faster and are more willing to take risks to achieve their goals (sometimes a good thing). They also think faster and are more comfortable with new technologies. Older people often display better judgment, have a more nuanced sense of risk, and, through experience and better pattern matching, can see analogies from past situations that can help resolve current issues. The combination is powerful.
This strongly suggests that the ideal presidential ticket will include an older adult and a younger adult, and a cabinet that understands age, gender, and geographic and racial diversity. Of course, our own self-interest may want us to elect someone who “thinks like us” or “looks like us”, but the best governance comes from conflicting views. In the free market of ideas, we are all better off if each idea has the opportunity to compete with the others, so that the best ideas win.
How old is too old to be president? It’s not a question of chronology – it’s a question of biology. Thanks to advances in medicine and a focus on healthy lifestyle choices, many people between the ages of 80 and 90 have the stamina, wisdom and compassion to solve some of the biggest problems the world is facing. faced today. And the best solutions will come when their perspectives are combined with the curiosity, values, digital nativism and skills of young people.
Daniel J. Levitin is Founding Dean of Arts and Humanities at KGI’s Minerva Schools, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at McGill University, and Distinguished Professor at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. He is the author, more recently, of “Successful aging. “