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This questions deals with the age of presidential candidates in US. The most upvoted answer argues that:

The main reason is simply that president of the US is the very top position that can be achieved for a (US) politician

This article shows a trend for electing young leaders (presidents, chancellors) in Europe:

Across Europe, stodgy career bureaucrats have been pushed aside in favor of a new guard of young, fresh-faced politicians.

In the last year alone, France, Ireland, Estonia — and now Austria, where the 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz is poised to take power — have elected leaders under the age of 40. Meanwhile, Belgium, Greece, Malta and Luxembourg have in the last four years elected heads under the age of 45

However, being a president or chancellor in an European country is also a top position, so I expect a similar argument to also apply here. So, clearly there is another discriminant that leads to such a big age difference (>= 70 vs. < 40).

Question: Why does US tend to have rather old leaders (> 60) while more and more European countries have young ones (<40)?

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    Current president of France is actually an exception(like JFK in USA). In recent history no French president was younger than 50 years when they took office. Generally being a president for a big country(like France, USA) means many contender and someone needs to climb some steps. These steps can be being in local legislatures, national parliament, cabinet etc. And it takes time to gather all that. – Nabil Farhan Jan 21 at 8:13
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    It might be a closer comparison to look at US state governors. – chrylis -on strike- Jan 21 at 15:57
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    I think you simply have your facts wrong. Of recent Presidents, Clinton & Obama were in their 40s when first elected, Bush was early 50s, and whatever you may think of Trump, he can't by any stretch of the imagination be described as a "stodgy career bureaucrat". Also, a good many US Presidents have not been career politicians: they enter politics after achieving success (or at least notoriety, in the case of Trump) in some other field. – jamesqf Jan 21 at 17:47
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    Question - is the "Baby Boomer" generation a US phenomenon, or was that huge jump in population for that age demographic something European nations experienced in similar scale after WWII? As a voting bloc, that generation has dominated US politics since the late 70s and early 80s, by mass, and then you have the fact that in the US, older voters are much more likely to get out and vote than younger ones. – PoloHoleSet Jan 22 at 16:10
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    @PoloHoleSet That would be a good question to post as an actual question. An answer that would do it justice would be too long for the comments (and, of course, comments aren't really meant for that, anyway.) – reirab Jan 22 at 22:46
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I'm not terribly sure that leaving outliers aside (both Trump and Macron are such) there's that much of a difference, historically, between the major European countries and the US. The Economist ran a short article on this in 2017, the best part of which is this graph:

enter image description here

They observe than in all four countries the gap (between the median population age and that of the leader) has been narrowing over time, but also

The average age at which a French president is elected is almost 60, the oldest of the four countries. Britain, where the average stands at 56, has not elected anyone over the age 60 since the 1970s.

As with so much else, Donald Trump is an outlier: at the age of 70 he is the oldest person to be elected president in American history.

So it matters a fair bit what the time frame is. Also, it's hard to draw conclusions from small samples, so the shorter the time frame...


One interesting related observation is that in parliaments elected by proportional representation there are more younger deputies. This might explain why PMs are more likely to be younger than presidents, but I don't have hard data on the latter issue.

One theory is that PR systems encourage greater voter participation in general, so that could translate into more younger voters voting (the youth typically participate less than older voters) so that might translate in more votes for younger leaders, which the younger voters prefer at least in some contexts. But there are a lot of factors potentially damping this effect and I'm not aware of studies proving this kind of "transference" is happening for positions like presidency (when directly elected).

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    Looking at the data, Trump seems much less of an outlier than Macron. – Jan Jan 21 at 16:44
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    @Jan Looking at the age range used in those graphs, Trump is 1.55 SDs above average for age entering office, while Macron is -1.97 below average. However, over the entirety of their respective offices, Trump is 2.29 above average, while Macron is only -2.07. – Azor Ahai Jan 21 at 18:05
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    What is worth questioning is why candidates seem to be so much older. Sanders is 78 (79 before November), Bloomberg / Biden 77, Warren 70. The younger ones, like Kamala Harris & Beto O'Rourke, have been eliminated. Some remaining ones, Yang & Tulsi, poll very low. – Tianxiang Xiong Jan 21 at 19:01
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    While "Donald Trump is an outlier: at the age of 70 he is the oldest person to be elected president in American history" may yet be true in the future, it seems to require a qualifier to be true right now. Indeed, Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1984 at 73 years and 9 months old, which is older than Trump is today. – A. Rex Jan 21 at 19:24
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    Of course, if it went by head of state rather than head of government, then Britain would have the oldest leader by far. – dan04 Jan 22 at 14:25
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Part of the answer may be that the US constitution does not allow the president to be younger than 35 years old. And there are also minimum ages for congress.

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    This is likely not the primary reason, but age limits are indeed an important contributing factor. When comparing to Europe, you have to consider that France (for example) only requires the President to be 18, while in Germany and Estonia it's 40, and 50 in Italy. That's definitely enough of a spread to make direct comparisons difficult. – bta Jan 22 at 3:26
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    Why would this prevent a career politician from being elected before turning 40 at all, and why would it lead only two presidents to be elected before 45 ever, and only two before 50 in the last century? – Nij Jan 22 at 5:39
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    @bta The head of government, ie 'leader', in Germany is the Bundeskanzler , not the Bundespräsident. 40 years is the minimum age for a Bundespräsident, but not for a Bundeskanzler. Indeed, that position has no further age requirement, but electability to the Bundestag is, among other things, tied to the legal age of 18 years. Notice that the graph in Fizz's answer lists people who held the position of Bundeskanzler. – knallfrosch Jan 22 at 13:37
  • @Nij Minimum age of 25, and there's only one election every four years, so most candidates only get one shot at becoming president before 40. Hillary Clinton, Trump, Sanders, McCain, and Romney all needed multiple runs. – mjt Jan 22 at 15:16
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    @mjt, 25 or 30 are minimums for Congress. President has to be over 35. – WGroleau Jan 22 at 19:24
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The US political system at the federal level currently vastly favors individual office holders over political parties. The parties have very little power other than as "alliance arrangements" between office holders, despite their considerable organizational and fundraising abilities. And to the limited extent that parties are important in the US, only two parties are of any significance; the minor parties can play a spoiler role in some close elections but are generally otherwise not relevant.

This results in a situation where individual office holders in the US tend to keep their offices as long as they want them - which gives you older office holders. In many European systems, an office holder that runs afoul of their party leadership can be dumped; that is very rare in the US system. Since the parties have little ability to put their desired candidates into offices, US candidates who have acquired personal fame and name recognition also have an advantage; since building name recognition takes time, this also favors older candidates even when the candidate is not the incumbent. In addition, the European multiparty systems allow candidates who occupy significant positions in minor parties to gain office and even (as part of coalitions) national roles in Cabinets; it is easier for a younger person to maneuver themselves into a position of importance in a small minor party, particularly during time frames when that party is out of the ruling coalition.

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    IMO, this answer majorly understates the effect the party leadership has on primaries and even who is allowed to run in the primaries in the U.S. The party leadership can't just directly pick the candidates like they do in much of Europe, but they do have a lot of influence over it. If the party doesn't like what one of its elected officials is doing, while it can't just expel them from their seat, it can and often does throw its support behind a primary challenger in the next election cycle. – reirab Jan 22 at 23:03
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Historically, Presidents typically tend to be in their mid 50s when they entered office. Kennedy remains the youngest President elected to office at 43 while Teddy Roosevelt is the youngest president at time of inauguration (Teddy was Vice President to McKinley, who was assassinated while in office, and Teddy ascended to the Presidency at the young age of 42.).

The reason for this is that Presidents are often the culmination of years of political experience, with service usually including either the Senate or Governor of a State prior to attempting candidacy. And typically, Leadership in either house in congress will be most senior and too stable to jump to the next level... additionally, some politicians are loved by the people who vote for them but are Nationally loathed. A recent poll found that the four members in congress known as "The Squad" who are all young progressive far-left democrats are supported enough in their distiricts that they could probably get re-elected, but nationally, their approval rating is as high as 25% and as low as 9%... they will not get Presidency with those numbers and would likely never try.

Additionally, there is a stigma against candidates who lost their last election from running for President, as they clearly do not have support, and many govenors will only run after their term limit is up.

Historically speaking, the 35 year old threshold mandated by the Constitution is the steepest, with the Representatives required to be 25 years old and Senators required to be 30 years old. Many of the founding fathers were in their late teens and early to mid 20s during the start of the Revolution, with Ben Franklin being the notable exception and being seen as the Cool (and Dirty) Old Man all the younger revolutionary thinkers hung out with as was George Washington (along with him being a Father to his Men as General of the Army). It's also important that the founders envisioned the Legislature to be the "first among equals" of the three branches with the Presidency being the guy seen by the world as representing America. Thus, the President needed to be a more revered figure and someone who's ideas could stand the test of time much more so than a young new shiny person entering as a baby faced Represetative. Sure, it's a popular idea now, but if it's popular in a decade, we'll talk about being the face of America to the world.

It should be pointed out that the 60+ candidates have only been a recent thing, as Trump is the oldest person to be elected President (70) in the history of the Union... and his 2016 opponent would have similarly set the record had she won. Going into 2020, most of the front runners of the nomination are also in their late 60s or early 70s and Bernie will be 79 two months shy of the election).

This may be due to Obama's extremely young age at election to office (46, not youngest but certainly in the top 10) and some of his detractors (and supporters if no one is around to hear them) point to his very short time in Washington as a factor that hurt many of his agenda goals' execution.

As a final say on the matter, while he is either a sainted hero or the devil's right hand man, most Americans love then ~72 years young Ronald Reagan's zinger when asked if age should be taken into account in the 1984 Presidential debate:

"I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

If you find the clip, most won't shy away from a cut to his opponent, Walter Mondale, not even attempting to hide the fact he found the response funny and it sums up American's general attitude towards age: It's just a number and while it's discussed when out of the ordinary, it's ultimately no more likely to hurt as it is to help a President get elected.

  • Another factor here is that Americans, or at least the subset of Americans who pay attention to their health & exercise, are living longer, and having longer health spans (merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/what-is-health-span ) than in previous generations – jamesqf Jan 22 at 18:28
  • @jamesqf: That said, America's life expectancy went down recently for the first time in years if not decades. Not to mention the current office holder is known for many traits, but health and exercise aficionado he ain't. – hszmv Jan 22 at 18:32
  • "sainted hero or the devil's right hand man" — compare that to the seeming thoughts of many today on Trump: either God or Satan incarnate. – WGroleau Jan 22 at 19:21
  • @WGroleau: I try to give whoever is President the benefit of some realistic explanations, less some one challenges me to do a better job... which I'm certain I wouldn't want to do. – hszmv Jan 22 at 19:46
  • @hszmv: Note that I said health span, not life span. That expectance is an average, so you could easily have a bimodal distribution of people who are long-lived thanks to a healthy lifestyle, and those who die prematurely due to unhealthy lifestyles. – jamesqf Jan 25 at 5:31
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Belgium is a constitutional monarchy.

Either way for me, this is an apples and oranges question.

The constitution in the different states differ widely with regard to the division of responsibility and power between the head of state or the head of government.

The Bundespräsident in Germany has basically only ceremonial duties while the power is in the hands of the chancellor, bundestag and the different states' own diet.

The French president has in the current fifth republic a lot of power (including a lot of emergency powers, in fact more than the American president, this in case of civil war or war.) This makes Macron an outlier, even if Sarkozy and Hollande also were comparatively young (compared with a de Gaulle who was 69 at the time when the fifth republic was instigated.)

Charles de Gaulle was himself also an outlier - it is unusual that someone has the influence to force a parliament to vote for a constitution like the current one in France. In the US case, it was I think basically only a Washington or a Lincoln which could have gathered the support to force such an constitution.

Gitanas Nausėda of Lithuania is 56 but Lithuania is an example of semi-presidentialism (ie the president has a fair bit more power compared to the German Bundespräsident).

Edit: The Bundespräsident of Germany has a large commitment to ceremonial duties, is elected by the Bundestag and the 16 Ländertag for a term of five years.

That position has a number of emergency powers and in some cases can veto legislation.

The Präsident has been veteran politicians but also like Joachim Gauck who was/is a evangelical pastor and activist. Basically well known persons which can be supported as a person who can be trusted to not be divisive.

  • The French President is not actually an outlier if we consider head of states in a broader sense (e.g. chancellor in Austria). Currently Sebastian Kurz and Sanna Marin have less then 35 (source). Otherwise, I agree that the comparison is not correct. – Alexei Jan 21 at 12:48
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    "Belgium is an constitutional monarchy." So is the Netherlands, but mostly in title. The king has very little real power. The real comparison would be to your prime minister (premier). – Mast Jan 22 at 9:28

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