US Presidential survival

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are now the confirmed candidates for their respective parties in the forthcoming US presidential election.  Much comment on Senator McCain surrounds his age (72 as at 29th August 2008), against that of Senator Obama (47, as at 4th August 2008).

The President of the USA serves a four-year term, so we can calculate the probability that a randomly chosen US male survives four years at each of the two ages.  We used the period life table for US males in 2004, available from the US Social Security website.  According to this table, a seventy-two-year-old US male has a 85.6% chance of surviving four years, whereas the figure for a forty-seven-year-old is 98.0%.  Thus, the older man is seven times more likely to die in a four-year period.

These survival probabilities might be understatements for the presidential candidates:

  • the life table is four years out of date and does not allow for future improvements
  • both senators are wealthier than the typical US male.
  • the President of the United States is likely to get better healthcare than the typical US male

Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that a Vice-President Palin would be much likelier to have to step up to the top job than a Vice-President Biden.  Whether this is a wholly desirable thing for any of the individuals involved is another matter.  Sixteen US presidents have been subjects of assassination attempts, of whom four have been murdered: Lincoln (1865), Garfield (1881), McKinley (1901) and Kennedy (1963).  This brings new meaning to the idea of geodemographics, i.e. the use of address or zip code to profile for mortality risk.  Clearly the inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (a.k.a. The White House) is at greater risk than others in the same zip code.




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Stephen Richards
Stephen Richards is the Managing Director of Longevitas