05/29/2014 04:59 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2014

Hillary's Age


There will be plenty of reasons to vote against Hillary in 2016, but her older age is not one of them.

Brain injury or not, the relationship between aging and health as a factor in Hillary's decision to run (and if she is successful, how well she might govern) is legitimate, though probably for exactly the opposite reasons most assume. Just about 75 at the end of a first term would put her roughly at the midpoint of the extra 30 years of life our 20th century miracle of longevity has now made the norm in our 21st century.

And like so many other facts of Hillary's public life -- a woman at the dawn of the feminist movement, a "co-president," fidelity in the White House during an era of fishbowl politics -- the "age thing" could serve a useful catalyst to cause us to rethink and reconsider what it means to get old in America and the world. We live in a time when, as Dr. Sarah Harper of Oxford's Institute on Ageing allowed, a young girl born in the 1990s is likely to see three centuries.

The questions that swirl around the age of a candidate for public office, particularly POTUS, is not inconsequential, and in light of Hillary's impending candidacy, could push us toward a national dialogue on what we think about aging and work in 21st century America -- in a good way. Consider:

  1. While aging and health are correlated, in our 21st century we can for the first time in history decouple the aging process from health as a barrier to engagement, activity, work and leadership. This is especially true if we redefine what we mean by old in the aging process. If we are living more healthy to 90 as a matter of course, how is it conceivable that at 60, 70 or 80, we are assigned to a set of roles that equate more with bingo, golf or rocking chairs than just another phase of work and engagement? Moreover, given that on the other side of the equation -- stunningly low birth rates leading to a profound shift in proportion of young to old across the globe -- there will be more of us over 60 than in 20th century working age definitions.
  2. So does Hillary's age matter as she considers running for POTUS? The answer is maybe, and that it might well be a positive, with huge implications for other institutions of society that today live with the antiquated 65 retirement age introduced by Bismarck in the 1880s. If Hillary's run can become a catalyst for how we in America think of age and how we begin to change our practices, we will arrive at a more valued way to consider this huge demographic cohort. It's not surprising that from Japan to Italy, Turkey to China the aging of the global population -- more old than young -- is causing a fundamental drive toward operating differently. Japan, the oldest population on the planet gets it because they have no choice as close to 40% of its population will be over 60 by as soon as 2020. Or on a company basis, why wouldn't the P&G's decision to bring back their 65 year old "retired" CEO become the new normal?
  3. The Hillary age question also prompts a re-think about how we can afford all of us "old people". The answer is to turn on its head the 20th century notion of who and what is old, which is how economic growth can be driven in "aging societies", whether emerging or developed economies. Keep older citizens working, engaged, active into their 60s, 70s, 80s, because to do so will be a strength for national economic and fiscal health.

Aging in America as around the globe has taken a new meaning in 21st century life. Embedding the Upside of Aging into the fabric of our institutions - government, business, education and community -- is essential and the measure of success will not be when we treat older Americans in any special way, but when the fact of their age is the less relevant than their knowledge, experience, wisdom or leadership capabilities.