My Beautiful Wickedness

Something to give undecided voters pause…
September 29, 2008, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

John McCain will be 73.6 years old, the normal life expectancy of an American male, on April 5, 2010.


10 Comments so far
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According to the CDC, the average life expectancy of a white male born in the US in 1936 was 58 years–so he’s already outlived that by many, many years. But you know how life expectancies work–once you survive childhood, your chances of living much longer than the average are significantly improved. And a financial resources and good access to health care also give you a good chance at a longer-than-average life–he’s had both. And genetics is assumed to play a part–that’s why they kept cutting to McCain’s mother during the convention.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m wearing my handmade Obama pin right now (and mailing one later today to a stranger in St. Louis, because that’s a real battleground state, unlike CA). But the demographic argument needs to be made with care, to avoid perpetuating common misconceptions about what statistics can and cannot tell us.

Comment by Penny

Thanks, Penny. You are right about the lie of statistics. However, I think that was the adjusted “once you make it out of childhood” stat.

I’m not as sure about the genetic argument as you are. My womenfolk live to be a hundred and then turn into whetstones. The men barely make it out of their fifties. Same genetic make-up, same socio-economic standing and access to care (maybe even superior access to care), but a different lifestyle. I’m just not that much of a gambler.

Comment by bridgett

Well women always have a longer average life expectancy, for all kinds of reasons; but I don’t think the factors that protect a specific woman into her 90s (well past the average) are lost to her sons –that wouldn’t make any sense. If a mother’s got some nice genes for, say, suppressing tumor growth, her son’s got just as much chance of inheriting it from her as a daughter would. (Even if the nice gene is on the X chromosome–because every man gets one of those from his mother, just like every woman does.)

But having the nice genes and getting a chance to benefit from them are two different things–which is why lifestyle and occupational hazards and wartime service and vehicular behaviors play a bigger part.

Comment by Penny

Should hedge that “always” the mean “in the majority of populations including in the US.” There are places and times where women have a shorter average life expectancy.

Comment by Penny

McCain’s father died at 70. His grandfather died at 61. He smoked for decades. Presidential campaigning and being President are both incredibly aging (look at 1992 vs. 2000 pics of Clinton or 2000 vs. now pics of W). I think it’s fair to consider the statistic as accurate, if not a little generous.

Comment by Holly

The problem is that this kind of statistical chatter works both ways–both of Obama’s parents died young, he has also been a smoker, etc. etc. I’ll always discourage students from putting too much stock in how demographic patterns apply to any individual–it’s just not what such patterns do best.

There’s an excellent new post at Alas, a Blog (with a long and contentious comments thread already) on the subject of McCain’s age and its relevance/irrelevance:

Comment by Penny

Come on Penny, are you really comparing a healthy 47 year old to a 72 year old? Someone 26 years from average life expectancy versus 18 months?

Fine, let’s go there. Let’s assume it’s even, and a 72 year old with multiple cancer bouts, who survived 5 1/2 years in a POW camp, is just as likely to survive for 4-8 years as a healthy 47 year old. OK.

Who chose the better VP? Who put country first in choosing someone who is qualified to stand up and take over at a moment’s notice? Whose judgment is shown to be superior here?

Comment by Holly

I’m not and I don’t. But the point is that demographic data is about averages over huge populations, and each individual in that population will live out a trajectory that’s predicted far more by personal factors than by the averages. So saying anyone is close to the average life expectancy doesn’t really say that much about them, without further context.

There are MOUNTAINS of reasons to vote against McCain, and I’d encourage everyone to do so–but a single demographic factoid isn’t among the better reasons.

Comment by Penny


So, voting for Obama, because the mPalinccain borg is a lying p.o.s., is still my best bet? I’m okay with that!

Comment by democommie

Right. PLEASE vote against the Borg who is a lying p.o.s. That’s an excellent policy in every situation. ;D

Comment by pennylrichardsca

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