Biden is the oldest president ever. And America is the oldest America ever.
In the years since, the tactic has become ubiquitous, if not a plague. He went from signing a card to this the birthday of the candidate to sign one for any the popular politician’s birthday. Political action committees send out cards in the name of various popular politicians so they can suck up all that data on their own.
In 2021, for example, President Biden’s birthday prompted emails encouraging people to sign sense cards. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association, the Committee Democratic Senate campaign 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 Shapirô.
This year, though? Less enthusiasm for the day. (Casey had a “card,” though, as did March On.) Part of that may be because Biden has been unpopular longer. But part of that is surely that the White House hasn’t been keen to remind people that Biden has just turned 80 – the oldest president in history being a year older.
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There is, however, an interesting context to this. When the United Nations announced earlier this month that the world’s population had reached 8 billion, I noted that it was partly because people were living longer — a factor that makes the United States are much older than before. In 1900, for example, only about 4% of the population was 65 or older. In 2020, more than 17% were. Thanks to longer life expectancies and baby boom aging, America is older than it has ever been.
It made me wonder how Biden’s age compares to the nation’s. He is the oldest president of all time, but America is the oldest in the United States. Did that make his age any less exceptional? I pulled data on the country’s population for the past 120 years and compared it to the president’s age during that time. And I can say: yes, Biden’s age is still exceptional.
The table below shows the percentage of the population each year that is the same age or older than the president who served the majority of that year. (The age of the presidents is as of December 31 of the year.)
The president in 1900 was William McKinley, at the relatively young age of 57. But in 1900, 88% of the country’s population was younger than that, so he was an old president relative to the country’s population that year. In 2003, when George W. Bush was 57, he was older than about 71% of the population.
The two youngest presidents in history were Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. When Roosevelt took office after McKinley’s assassination in 1901, he was about to turn 43, older than about 80 percent of the population. When Kennedy took office six decades later, the year he turned 44, he was only 69 percent of the aging population older. The youngest president relative to population, however, was neither. Instead, it was Barack Obama, who had more than 65% of the nation’s population when he took office in 2009, the year he turned 48.
There are some interesting patterns in the chart. There was the Teddy Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson period in which presidents were all born within a two-year period and so the relationship with the people remained fairly constant. And of course, the Bill Clinton-George W. Bush-Donald Trump periods, given that all three were born in 1946.
But there is Biden. Yes, America is older than before, but Biden’s age is still quite exceptional. He is older than almost 96% of the population – the second largest gap between a president’s age and that of the population. The winner here is Ronald Reagan who in his last year in office turned 77, making him older than a fraction more of the population than Biden is now.
There is definitely some boundary blurring here. Population figures are Census Bureau estimates; where and when you measure age are also important. But it can certainly be said that Biden is older relative to the population than any other president except Reagan — even though the population is aging.
Of course, Biden’s situation is relatable in its own way. Isn’t everyone reaching a certain age less excited about birthday cards that celebrate them?