Thurmond of South Carolina just turned 90. Wil...


December 10, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SEN. STROM Thurmond of South Carolina just turned 90. Wil he break the Senate longevity records?

There are two. One is personal longevity. The late Sen. Theodore Green of Rhode Island was 93 and 1/4 years when he retired in 1961. Strom will pass him by a day on March 7, 1996. The probability that Strom will be alive then is 57 percent. More

probable than not.

How do I know this? Because Dwight Bartlett told me. Dwight is an old friend who was chief actuary at the Social Security Administration and is now an actuarial and management consultant in Annapolis. Last month I wrote that "actuarial tables say" the four living ex-presidents and George Bush have a life expectancy of at least four years each, so all would be assumed to be alive Inauguration Day, 1997.

Dwight wrote, "You didn't really think an actuary would let you get away with your unscientific use of life expectancies did you? The fact is that based on current population mortality rates for U.S. males, the expected number of deaths in the next four years among the five is approximately 1 and 1/3. The probability of all five surviving to the end of Clinton's term is only 20 percent."

So when I decided to write about Thurmond, I checked with Dwight, and he gave me Strom's chances of setting the records.

The other Senate longevity record is length of service. The current record is 41 years 10 months, set by Sen. Carl Hayden of Arizona, 1927-1969. Thurmond entered the Senate on Dec. 14, 1954. But he resigned from the Senate on April 4, 1956 (to honor a bizarre campaign pledge) and was not re-sworn in till Nov. 7, 1956, after winning re-election. So he won't set a length of service record till early April, 1997.

Dwight Bartlett told me that Strom's probability of living 5 and 1/4 years (I wasn't as precise as I should have been in telling him when the milepost was) is 37 percent. Considering that Strom still lifts weights, avoids fried foods, caffeine and alcohol, he probably will beat the probabilities.

But his term is up in January 1997. He'd have to be re-elected in November 1996. Would South Carolinans vote for a candidate who would have to live to be 100 to serve out his term? Why not? What a unique, wonderful campaign pledge!

And what a record to set! He'd have a fair chance of making it. The odds of a 94-year-old American male living to be 100 are 18 percent, Dwight Bartlett tells me.

P.S. Saul Jay Singer, a lawyer in Washington who used to be an actuary, wrote me about my mistaken ex-presidents' column, too. He looked at his old (1959-1961) U.S. Life Tables and calculated they showed only a 13.3 percent chance those five guys would be alive in 1997. I asked him about Strom. The old table showed only an 18 percent probability that he'd live to set the length of service record.

So in 30 years life expectancy for oldsters has increased dramatically. Baby Boomers may never die.

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