Biden is the oldest president ever. And America is the oldest America ever.


Someone, working on a political campaign sometime in the past, had a great idea. You know how campaigns want to extract as much information as possible about voters? Well, why not send an email asking people to sign a card for the candidate’s upcoming birthday! Affirming support, getting names, maybe even contributing—all in the guise of the innocuous act of celebrating a candidate who is a year older. genius.

In the years since, this tactic has become widespread, if not epidemic. I’ve expanded from signing a card to this is Candidate’s birthday to sign one Which A popular politician’s birthday. PACs send out cards on behalf of various grassroots politicians so they can offload all that data for themselves.

In 2021, for example, President Biden’s birthday triggered emails encouraging people to sign cards from Senator Robert B. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Governors Association, Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, PACs including I Vote for America, Latino Victory, March On, Never Again and Save Democracy, and candidates Dwight Evans, Derek Kilmer, Tom O’Halleran, and Josh Shapiro.

This year, though? Less excited for today. (Casey had a “card,” as did the March On.) This may partly be a result of Biden being out of favor for a longer period. But the White House certainly wasn’t keen on reminding people that Biden turned 80 — the oldest president in history to be a year older.

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There is an interesting bit of context to this, though. When the United Nations earlier this month put the world’s population at 8 billion, I pointed out that this was partly because people were living longer—a contributor to a United States that is older than it used to be. In 1900, for example, only about 4 percent of the population was 65 or older. In 2020, it was more than 17 percent. Thanks to life expectancy and a baby boom, America is now older than it has ever been.

This made me wonder how Biden’s age compares to that of the nation. He’s the greatest president ever, but America is the oldest America ever. Did that make his age any less exceptional? It collected data on the country’s population for the past 120 years and compared it to the age of the president over that period. And I can say: yes, Biden’s lifespan is still phenomenal.

The graph below shows the percentage of the population each year the same age as or older than the president who served the majority of that year. (The president’s age as of December 31 of the year).

The chief in 1900 was William McKinley, a relatively young 57-year-old. But in 1900, 88 percent of the nation’s population was younger than that, so it was chief old-fashioned for the nation’s population that year. In 2003, when George W. Bush was 57 years old, he was older than only about 71 percent of the population.

The two youngest presidents in history are Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. When Roosevelt took office after McKinley was assassinated in 1901, he was about to be 43, older than about 80 percent of the population. When Kennedy took office six decades later the year he turned 44, he was older than just 69 percent of the elderly population. However, the younger chief in relation to the population was neither. Instead, it was Barack Obama, who was more than 65 percent older when he took office in 2009, the year he turned 48.

There are some interesting patterns in the chart. There was a period of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in which all presidents were born within two years, and so the relationship with the population remained fairly constant. And, of course, the terms of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, given that all three were born in 1946.

But then there is Biden. Yes, America is older than it used to be, but Biden’s lifespan is still somewhat exceptional. It is greater than 96 percent of the population – the second largest gap between the age of the president and the population. The victor here is Ronald Reagan, who turned 77 in his last year in office, making him a fraction older than Biden now.

There is definitely some ambiguity at the border here. Population numbers are Census Bureau estimates. The place and time of the age measurement is also important. But one can certainly say that Biden is older relative to the population than any other president except Reagan—even as the population ages.

Of course, the situation for Biden is related in its own way. Doesn’t everyone, at a milestone in life, get less excited about the birthday cards you’re celebrating?

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