Hilary Clinton and the actuarial tables

Actuarially, HRC in 2016 won’t be the age of Reagan in 1980, but Romney in 2012. Who said Mitt was too old?

I don’t know any more than anyone else about Hilary Clinton’s health status or Presidential plans. I strongly hope she runs, because I’m confident that she would clobber any Republican and less confident that any other Democrat would do so. I’m glad to have my views validated by no less an expert on Presidential politics than Karl Rove. [Whatever the truth or falsity of the reports about Rove’s sexual activity with underage goats, his expertise remains unmatched.]

One predictable and intended result of Rove’s low blow was to raise the age issue. Republicans, and reporters, who ignored the obvious signs of Ronald Reagan’s progressive dementia in the 1984 campaign.

(I remember vividly Reagan’s utterly confused closing in the first debate, and remember even more vividly the deafening silence from the political press corps and from Democrats that followed. Instead the buzz was about Reagan’s canned witticism on Mondale’s “youth and inexperience.” The Democrats suffer from a deficit of dirty players and subservient hacks, which on balance seems to me a good thing but can be costly at key moments.)

Charlie Cook of the National Journal – while making no reference to the the bestiality questions concerning Rove, which have as strong a factual basis as the brain-damage questions about Clinton – plays along with Rove’s nonsense by writing a beard-stroking column gravely pondering HRC’s age and her decision about whether to run. Topic sentence: “While Clinton’s age will be precisely the same as Ronald Reagan’s when he was first elected president, people in their late 60s do not make nine-year commitments lightly.”

Well, actually, no. Her calendar age will be the same as Reagan’s. But men – alas! – age faster than women. A quick glance at the mortality tables shows that a 69-year-old woman has the same annual mortality risk (1.49%) as a 64-year-old man. So in actuarial terms, Hilary Clinton in 2016 would be the age, not of Ronald Reagan in 1980, but of Mitt Romney in 2012. (Actually, adjusted for gender, she’d be a year younger than Romney was.) Did you hear anyone argue that Mitt was too old to be President? Me neither.

Of course age is a factor; other things equal, you’d rather have a younger president, because the job itself is so punishing. But let’s keep the relevant facts straight.

Update One commenter points out that the risk of reduced cognitive function might not follow the same gender pattern as the risk of mortality. Does anyone have actual data on this point? James Wimberley raises a different question: the extent to which predictions informed by measurements of individuals can trump aggregate statistics. Again, there’s an empirical question: if the Clinton campaign releases a “clean bill of health” medical report, how seriously should we take those findings?

Another commenter points out that Rove – who has never convincingly disproven the persistent rumors about his pedophilia – made the unsupported suggestion that HRC has brain damage without explicitly mentioning her age. As the post points out, it was Charlie Cook who, riffing off Rove, raised the age question. If you believe that Rove didn’t intend to raise the age question, let’s talk about investment opportunities in urban transportation infrastructure.



Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Hilary Clinton and the actuarial tables”

  1. "… a 69-year-old woman has the same annual morality risk (1.49%) as a 64-year-old man.". Nah. Women have much high morality risks at any age. Killjoys.

  2. Mittens was too a lot of things (like clueless, ethically challenged, lacking in empathy, _______ ) to be President. His age was the least of the bunch.

  3. I'm not qualified on LTC, but I'm fairly familiar with LTC underwriting and risk (I'm a life actuary; I used to work for a firm for whom LTC was an important product, but never worked on it.)

    Mortality risk and what I'll call "reduced brain function risk" aren't very closely connected. (Basically, protective factors for living longer have little effect on dementia–the extreme form of reduced brain function–incidence.) Any history of neurological problems (seizures, tremors, TIAs) really increases the risk of future reduced brain function; traditional cardiovascular risks don't affect dementia risk very much.

    In short, I think mortality is the wrong risk to look at with older candidates for office.

  4. At our age, isn't the variance higher so that individual characteristics and history dominate the averages? Going by this website calculator, which works in a variety of risk and prophylactic factors, my life expectancy is over 90. HRC will presumably release a medical report.

    Her choice of VP candidate will become more important. The risk of her choosing someone as unfitted for the Presidency as Sarah Palin or Spiro Agnew is nil, but the candidate should still be scrutinised for the part.

    1. The chooser at the top of the 2008 Republican ticket was as unfitted for the presidency as the choosee.

  5. Potential democratic candidates segue directly from “too young and inexperienced” to “too old and worn out” without any intervening period of suitability for office.

  6. It wasn't Hillary's age that Rove was bringing up, but the head injury that resulted in a blood clot, which he suggested might have resulted in brain damage. I know you like to attack Rove, but it might be better you could criticize him for what he actually said.

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