This is a very uncomfortable topic. But given that voters are choosing a president of the United States in 16 months, it needs to be part of the discussion — indeed, it already is. How likely is it that President Joe Biden would live to finish his second term if he were reelected?
Of course, anyone can die at any age for any number of reasons. But we know there are statistical probabilities relating to death, with a small percentage of young people and a larger percentage of seniors dying in any given year. Biden is 80 years old. He will turn 82 just a few weeks after the 2024 election, and would be 86 were he to finish a second term.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) “Cohort Life Expectancy” table, a male born in 1942 (Biden’s birth year) had a life expectancy at birth of 71.1 years. Of course, males born today have a much longer life expectancy, 82.3 years. But the longer a person lives, the longer he or she is expected to survive. For example, SSA estimates that a male born in 1942 who reached the age of 65 can, on average, expect to live another 12.8 years, which for Biden would take him to the age of 84 — about the middle of his second term.
The SSA also provides a life expectancy calculator, which says that a male born in 1942 who is still alive today (at 80) can expect to live another 8.4 years. That means that if Biden were to win his reelection bid, he would, on average, finish the term with a couple of years to spare.
But SSA’s calculator includes an important footnote: “The estimates of additional life expectancy do not take into account a wide number of factors such as current health, lifestyle, and family history that could increase or decrease life expectancy.”
Many people in their 80s are physically active and mentally alert. Harrison Ford is starring in the fifth Indiana Jones movie at age 80. Donald Trump at 77 is closing in on 80, and is still very physically active and high energy. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 81 is still capable of proposing wrong-headed, socialist-inspired economic policies with much fervor. And investing icon Warren Buffet is still dispensing investment wisdom at 92.
Given Biden’s obvious age and health challenges, what we really want to know is what the chances are that he would finish a second term.
Katia Iervasi, a lead writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet, puts it like this: “As you’d expect, the risk of dying increase as we age. For men, five-year [survival] odds stay in the single digits until their mid-50s, when longevity percentages begin to decrease more dramatically. At 70 years old, the majority of men are expected to live another 10 years, and a quarter are expected to live to see 90.”
According to Iervasi, an 80-year-old male like Biden has a 31.35 percent chance of dying in the next five years, and a 64.27 percent chance of dying within the next 10 years. In other words, there is almost a one-in-three chance Biden would not finish his second term.
But that estimate is an average. Biden’s health appears less than average, even for an 80-year-old, a point frequently discussed in the media. Moreover, Biden is president of the United States, one of the most stressful jobs in the world. We have seen a number of middle-aged men go into the White House and come out looking much older at the end of their second term. Eight years as commander in chief appears to dramatically age even a vigorous middle-aged man. And Biden is neither vigorous nor a middle-ager.
Given those factors, it might be reasonable to bump up Biden’s 31.35 percent chance of dying in office to perhaps 50 percent. Thus, it is highly possible, perhaps even probable, that a Biden reelection victory would result in Kamala Harris becoming the first female president.
Given Harris’s low poll ratings and dismal performance as vice president so far, that is not an outcome the large majority of voters want. But what would it mean for the country?
I have to think our allies are dreading, and our adversaries are relishing, the possibility of a President Harris. Russian President Vladimir Putin waited until Donald Trump was out of office and Biden was in to invade Ukraine. Could Chinese President Xi Jinping be waiting for Biden to be out of office, and Harris in, to invade Taiwan?