Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for president, recently stated on Fox News that, ‘‘if you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”
While that might make a catchy political sound bite, it completely ignores the current science about demography and longevity. It also ignores Joe Biden’s current state of health.
For anybody who isn’t a newborn, the most important life expectancy to focus on is your remaining life expectancy, given your current age. In the United States, the average life expectancy that’s most often reported by the media is the average life expectancy at birth, which is currently in the mid to high 70s. Since President Biden has already reached age 80, he’s in a much more exclusive “longevity club” as compared to everybody who has lived and died leading up to age 80.
When estimating an individual’s remaining life expectancy, it’s important to reflect their life and health circumstances, such as whether they’ve ever smoked, their current height and weight, their exercise habits, and so on. And the latest longevity research shows that people with above average income and educational attainment generally have significantly higher lifespans compared to the general population; these two characteristics both apply to President Biden.
Let’s look at some online life expectancy calculators to help us estimate how long President Biden might live; we’ll use data that’s publicly available, such as the annual summary of President Biden’s health that’s published by the White House. This summary shows he has very healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels and maintains a healthy weight and body-mass index, which are all important indicators of the risk of heart disease—our number-one killer. And by the way, President Biden’s numbers are way better than most American adults of any age.
Life expectancy calculators project that Biden might live into his late 90s.
One life expectancy calculator developed by professors at the University of Pennsylvania asks 14 questions about your lifestyle and health circumstances. This calculator projects that President Biden’s life expectancy is age 98, with a 75% chance he’ll live until age 91. It also says he might live 9.6 years longer than most people, which is understandable given his current excellent health compared to most Americans.
Next, Northwest Mutual sponsors a life expectancy calculator that asks 13 questions about your health status. I “guesstimated” the answers to some of the questions by assuming that President Biden follows the common guidelines regarding healthy levels of exercise and the consumption of fruits and vegetables. This calculator projected that President Biden could live to anywhere from age 98 to age 102. (Since I had to guess the answer to a few of the questions, I tried using different answers to see what the range of his potential life expectancy could be.)
On the less optimistic side, the life expectancy data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes life expectancies for the entire population that ignore all the personalized factors mentioned previously. Their data shows that an 80-year-old white male can expect to live another 7.8 years to age 87.8. This is a low estimate of President Biden’s life expectancy, however, since it ignores all the favorable factors of his health and the excellent health care and guidance he’s likely receiving.
The difference between the CDC life expectancy estimate and the previous two estimates illustrates the importance of recognizing individual lifestyle and environmental factors when estimating how long someone might live.
Recent presidents have lived a long time
It’s also instructive to look at the ages at death of recent presidents:
- Ronald Reagan: age 93
- George H.W. Bush: 94
- Gerald Ford: 93
And Jimmy Carter’s still alive at age 98!
The evidence here suggests a high likelihood that President Biden will live well beyond age 86, which would be his age at the end of a second term. Of course, there are no guarantees with any life expectancy calculation, but it seems more likely he’ll live much longer than just four years.
It’s understandable that Haley could be confused about President Biden’s expected life expectancy, since many people are unaware of the longevity revolution that’s taking place in our country. Hopefully she and many other people will begin to learn more about the long lives so many Americans are living, the factors that influence an individual’s life expectancy, and the implications of long lives for individuals, families, and society in general.