Aging of the Quorum of the Twelve

Mike Wallace: There are those who say, “This is a gerontocracy. This is a church run by old men.”

Gordon B. Hinckley: Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head, a man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?

[From a 1996 interview on 60 Minutes.]

It hasn’t always been this way, though. Certainly Joseph Smith was young–he didn’t even live to see 40. So when was the transition from having the Quorum of the Twelve consist of young men to having it consist of largely old men? To answer this question, I made the following figure.


I apologize;  I know it’s really busy. I though it might be interesting to have all this information in the same figure, though. Here is what each part of the figure shows:

  • The horizontal axis shows year, running from 1835, when the Quorum of the Twelve was organized, to 2009.
  • The vertical axis shows age.
  • The blue line running through the figure shows the median age of the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (excluding those who weren’t called as apostles while serving in the First Presidency; for convenience I’ll refer to this group as the Quorum of the Fifteen or the Quorum).
  • The orange lines show the age of the oldest member of the Quorum at each time. Breaks appear where the oldest member was displaced from his position (typically because he died).
  • The green lines show the age of the youngest member of the Quorum at each time. Breaks appear where the youngest member was displaced from his position (typically because someone younger was called).
  • The dashed black lines show the age of the President of the Church at each time. The white and gray bars in the background alternate with each change in President. The Presidents’ names are across the top left and lower right parts of the figure.

I guess I had always kind of assumed that the age increase happened wholly during Brigham Young’s tenure, since he was the first Church President to die of natural causes, and so the first to have a chance to live to a fairly advanced age. Looking at the figure, it certainly is true that the median age advanced a lot during that time. Younger men continued to be called into the Quorum–no youngest member was ever as old as 40–but existing members largely lived a long time, pushing the median age from about 40 when Joseph Smith was killed in 1844 to about 65 when Brigham Young died in 1877. But it looks like there were two other periods of consistent quorum aging.

For the 30 years following Brigham Young’s death, the Quorum’s median age was up and down but actually fell by the end to about 50. Then, starting partway through Joseph F. Smith’s administration and continuing through Heber J. Grant’s and George Albert Smith’s administrations, the median age rose consistently from 50 to about 70. A large part of this increase was driven by a group of ten members of the quorum, all consecutive in seniority, who served from 1921 to 1931 with no deaths among them. This period of increase was followed by a 40 year period during which the median age fluctuated between about 60 and over 70. Finally, starting at the beginning of Gordon B. Hinckley’s presidency, the median age increased again to nearly 80. As with the increase under Heber J. Grant, a group of men–in this case the entire Quorum–served together for a number of years (early 1995 to mid-2004) with no deaths among them.

Enough about that. Now that I’ve made the figure, I have a few other random observations from looking at it.

  • Joseph Smith and Harold B. Lee are the only Church Presidents to have been around the median age for the Quorum during their presidency.
  • Stephen L. Richards was the youngest member of the Quorum for longer than anyone else has been. He’s represented by the green line running through much of Heber J. Grant’s presidency. He was 37 when called in 1917, and the next nine Quorum members to be called were all born before he was.
  • Thomas S. Monson was the youngest for the second longest. He’s represented by the green line that starts a little over halfway through David O. McKay’s time as President. He was 36 when called in 1963. The next six Quorum members to be called were all born before he was.
  • About half of Church Presidents end up being the oldest man in the Quorum, eventually. Those who didn’t are Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, George Albert Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Howard W. Hunter. (Of course we don’t know yet about Thomas S. Monson: he’s not the oldest yet–he would have to outlive Boyd K. Packer, L. Tom Perry, and Russell M. Nelson to make it.)
  • Most Church Presidents are succeeded by younger men. The only exceptions are Brigham Young, who was 43, succeeding Joseph Smith, who died at 38; Wilford Woodruff, who was 80, succeeding John Taylor, who died at 78; and Spencer W. Kimball, who was 78, succeeding Harold B. Lee, who died at 74.

Are there any other interesting patterns you see? What do you predict for the future? Will the median Quorum age continue to increase? Will it stagnate or fall?


  1. I think it’s great to have older men be in charge of the church. They are less likely to say something stupid, having learned through years of experience when to keep their mouths shut and when to open them. 🙂

  2. I like having wise older men lead our Church. I just wish that if they became unable to serve because of senility or illness that another person could be appointed to serve in their place.

  3. What surprised me most — besides the fact that you would even think of calculating all this (although that shouldn’t be such a surprise; you are the Mighty Ziff, after all) — is that the median age of the Quorum has been so much younger so recently. Perhaps because the oldest has been so very old during my whole lifetime, I hadn’t realized that the median was actually so much lower.

    Thanks. Will have to think about this and come back.

  4. It’s interesting that the age increases with better access to health care (advancing technology combined with its availability for Utahns, due to increased ease of travel).

    I find there are downsides, though. We had a new stake center built recently, and the nursery was too small (it was a Utah ward, for heaven’s sake, and it was the smallest classroom in the entire building). It was clearly designed by people who didn’t worry about little kids, and it was approved by GAs who hadn’t had little kids in 50 years or more (and then, their wives did the rearing). We had to move the nursery to the gym, and couldn’t use the classroom for any of the other classes (it was just too small).

    Just to be clear, I’m not casting blame — I’m just saying that there are some things that men of the average age of GAs don’t think about, and maybe have never thought about, and those things are important to use 30-40 year olds.

  5. Another thought that just occurred to me — it has been reported that the church loses as many as 80% of young women between the ages of 18 and 30. If there are two groups of people from diametrically opposing cultures, it’s women of that age and men of the GA’s age. I wonder if that has any impact on retention of young single women.

  6. .

    I understand we lose even more men from that age group, for what it’s worth.

    It’s a fascinating graph though and thank you for making it.

    To respond to one of your questions, unless the singularity’s around the corner, there’s a limit to how high the average age can go. I can’t imagine it’ll ever top a hundred, no matter how great medicine gets.

  7. Ziff, these graphs are so cool. If I had another me, I’d learn stuff like this from people like you.

    It seems like there is a kind of wave pattern in it…peaks and then drops and climbs and then drops. Kinda makes sense.

    Fun to mull over.

  8. Well Gertrude just Baines lived to be 115 on bacon and ice cream (hardly a trend I know). If the median age of church leadership increases, so be it. But personally, if I get to the point where someone else is changing my diaper– forget it… no amount of ice cream is worth that– then put off this mortal probation, please. At that point, I doubt I really am relating to the 30 years olds as I once did/could have. Men or women.

  9. Thanks so much, moksha. I really appreciate hearing that you both enjoy my stuff. (And you clearly have good taste to be married to a statistician! 🙂 )

    m&m, I agree–the pattern makes sense once you think about it. When I first plotted this, though, I thought for sure I had done something very wrong, because in particular the max and min ages don’t look like typical trends over time.

    Th., I suspect you’re right that age increases are reaching an asymptote. I wonder, though, given that the current median age is pretty close to the present life expectancy for a 50 year old white man in the US (i.e., 28-29 more years for a total of 78-79), whether it might not be possible to push it at least a little higher even without medical advances. Sorry–that’s not very clear. I guess my point is that the median age isn’t all that high compared to what you might expect if you chose some 50-year olds at random and followed them over time. Given Word of Wisdom considerations alone (and the fact that married men tend to live longer than single men) you might expect members of the Quorum to be able to push the median into the mid-80s or beyond even given current medicine.

    GD–good point–the old male GAs’ experience is probably a long way from the young female singles’ experience in the Church. I wonder if they would ever consider calling young single women (or men) as kind of translators to bridge that gap. (I’m just making things up, of course.)

    Ardis–I thought that too! Perhaps at least some of the effect is in my own aging (when you’re 10, 60 and 80 aren’t that far apart; when you’re 30 they’re farther apart) but it had never occurred to me how recent this latest age increase has been. I mean, at the beginning of President Kimball’s administration, he was the oldest member of the Quorum, and he wasn’t even 80!

  10. Ziff, extremely well done. Kudos, I thought this was a brilliantly-made visual representation of a very complex phenomenon.

    #5 GD, can you find the reference for that stat? I’m interested in finding out more about that, if it’s true.

  11. This is fabulous. I think two more analyses would be interesting:

    1. Comparing the median (or perhaps average) age to average life expectancy during each time period. Brigham Young surely lived a lot longer than was typical for his time. While in absolute terms we’ve seen aging, how pronounced is this in relative terms?

    2. A scatter plot showing the ages when originally called to the quorum. We’ve seen large differences in longevity among apostles. Is there a trend in calling men at later ages? Admittedly, there may not be, and Richards and Monson would demonstrate notable exceptions.

  12. But personally, if I get to the point where someone else is changing my diaper– forget it

    Re. #4: Who says older men can’t relate to the kids in the nursery?

  13. I wonder how much of this has to do with changes in how men grow in the church to the point where they are considered worthy to be called apostles. During Joseph Smith’s day (and Brigham Young’s too, I’d imagine), it was not uncommon for men to be called to the apostleship after having only been members for a few years. Now we have the quorums of seventy, mission presidencies, and stake presidencies that act as “farm teams” for the Q12. These days it’d be unheard of for someone to be called to the Q12 without progressing through a stake presidency, mission presidency, and one of the 70s quorums first. It takes a long time for men to work their way through that, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re older when they reach apostleship. In light of all of that, Elders Bednar and Andersen made it very quick. Maybe a reversing of the trend?

  14. Kim, yes. The last three green lines are Oaks, Holland, and Bednar.

    Steve, that’s an excellent point I hadn’t though of. It must have taken a while for the Church to have lots of members to draw experienced members from for the Quorum. Even more recently, though, the requirement of having lots of church service under one’s belt seems to have increased–wasn’t President Kimball called to the Quorum after having been no more than a stake president, for example? But recent new Quorum members have, as you pointed out, all come from the Seventy or have experience running Church universities.

  15. Thanks, jeans and SW Clark. And thanks for the ideas for further things to look at! If I can put the stuff together I can do a follow-up post.

  16. Actually, a quarter of current apostles (Oaks, Nelson, Bednar) were called directly into the 12 without having previously been general authorities. I think Dallin Oaks was a regional representative, but I don’t know that he had much other notable ecclesiastical experience.

  17. Good point, Left Field. I had forgotten about Elder Nelson. But I do wonder if the experience of Elders Oaks, Bednar (and for that matter, Holland) in running Church schools don’t count for some kind of prep work like serving in the Seventy.

  18. Elder Nelson is indeed an interesting case, since his highest Church calling was Stake President. While pioneer family and other personal connections determined leadership more in the past, I wonder if he might be one of the last obvious cases of this as a growing Church requires a more extensive (and ostensibly meritorious) farm system.

    It seems notable that having “only” been a stake president (though quite accomplished elsewhere), Nelson was called by the prophet who himself had come in as “only” a stake president previously. While Nelson very obviously came in because of his service as Pres. Kimball’s physician, Kimball’s own history might have led him to see potential in this attendant that others wouldn’t have.

  19. I think the comment about life expectancy is really important to consider. Ziff, is that something you could factor in on another analysis?

    I can’t get my head around how you’d represent this statistically vis-a-vis the other data, but somewhere in my head I’m thinking that the size of the Church has an impact, too — the larger the church, the more possible it is to have more people with more church experience. The group from which the leaders are chosen varied significantly over time. There were fewer people to choose from originally, when the Church was still young. It was young and its people were relatively younger (again life expectancy surely comes into play).

  20. If I remember correctly, Elder Nelson also served as general Sunday School president, back before that calling was assigned to general authorities.

  21. Ziff, just a comment about your figure: I did not need the legend at all. Perfectly comprehensible on its own. Wow. You have some serious talent. So, yeah, no worries about it being too busy.

  22. I do not have much to add but I am very impressed with some of the recent posts on ZD. You are taking it to a new level.

  23. Thanks Ben, E, bbell, and Jessawhy.

    bbell, regarding our new level, we’ve actually been joking with each other about how we’ve put up so many posts (for us) recently that it will only frustrate anyone who reads us further when we drop back to our usual one every week to ten days.

    Jess, thanks, I hadn’t noticed it, but this graph does have an interesting look to it that most of my graphs lack.

  24. Merely because I just posted this at

    In order of seniority: (From the Religion 341/342/343 Institute Manual, and Wikipedia)

    Elder Monson, b. 1927.
    Elder Packer, b. 1924.
    Elder Perry, b. 1922.
    Elder Nelson, b. 1924.
    Elder Oaks, b. 1932.
    Elder Ballard, b. 1928.
    Elder Scott, b. 1928.
    Elder Hales, b. 1932.
    Elder Holland, b. 1940.
    Elder Eyring, b. 1933.
    Elder Uchtdorf, b. 1940.
    Elder Bednar, b. 1952.
    Elder Cook, b. 1940.
    Elder Christofferson, b. 1945.

    Elder Andersen, b. 1951.


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