Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

A “Souper Sunday” conversation on age and the presidential candidates

Written by Brian Carpenter, PhD, co-director, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Friedman Center co-Director, Nancy Morrow-Howell discusses age and the U.S. presidency

You’ve probably seen or heard stories in the news lately about age and the presidential candidates. Lots of people have opinions, and we at the Center for Aging have been watching the debate closely and chiming in with our perspectives. On Sunday, February 18, Center co-Directors, Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, and I visited the monthly Souper Sunday program sponsored by STL Village, a supportive community network for older adults in St. Louis. Following some socializing and a selection of homemade soups, the conversation turned to the evening’s topic, “Age and the Presidential Candidates.”

We began our talk by reviewing history regarding age requirements throughout the federal government and age limit regulations in other occupations. For example, air traffic controllers have to stop working when they turn 56, and in some states, judges must retire at age 70. But are age limits something to be considered in the role of United States President?

The Souper Sunday conversation focused on the weaknesses of relying on chronological age alone as an indicator of whether or not someone is capable of fulfilling their responsibilities as president. Yes, there are physical and cognitive changes that are a normal part of growing older. The average 85-year-old brain may work differently than the average 35-year-old brain, but those changes 1) don’t happen to everyone, 2) are usually mild, and 3) happen quite late in life (i.e., after age 85) – if they do occur at all. Similarly, physical changes in strength, stamina and mobility may happen as people grow older, but do those changes necessarily mean a person isn’t capable of enacting his presidential duties?

As many experts have suggested, what’s more important is considering the characteristics and capabilities that enable someone to perform duties effectively – good judgment, emotional stability, humility, human decency, knowledge of history, and the interpersonal skills needed to work collaboratively with colleagues and world leaders. At Souper Sunday, attendees offered lively opinions and a great back-and-forth conversation which showed that civil debate and conversation are possible, even in these tense political and social times.

We’ll likely hear more about this issue in the months ahead. We can identify ageism that creeps into the political discourse and combat it with the main points discussed at Souper Sunday: Chronological age is not a characteristic that’s helpful when evaluating the fitness of presidential candidates.

Read more about this topic in a blog post from the Center for Aging Team. 

Brian Carpenter and Nancy Morrow-Howell at the STL Village Souper Sunday event