Aging of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

The median age of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) is currently about 83. Even for a group that’s often thought of as being old, this is unusual. In fact, the Q15 is older now than it has ever been before.

Here’s a graph showing the age of the Q15 since 1835. The blue line shows the median age. The orange lines show the age of the oldest Q15 member; the green lines show the age of the youngest. The dashed black line shows the age of the Church President. The data come from

GA age 1835-2014

If you’ve been reading ZD for a long time and have a very good memory, you might recall that I posted a version of this graph back in 2009. What’s interesting is that when I pulled it out to update it, the process was really easy, because nobody in the Q15 has died since then. That might not sound like a big deal. Surely you can think of lots of groups of 15 people who haven’t had a death among them over a period of five years. But given how old the Q15 members typically are, this is unusual: the current streak is coming up on being the second-longest ever during which no Q15 members entered or exited. (These days, of course, they pretty much only exit by dying, but back in the 19th century, there were also exits because of disagreement and excommunication.)

Below are the ten longest periods that a Q15 served with no members entering or exiting. (If you look at my 2009 post, you’ll see that I claimed that there was a period of a decade in the 1920s when nobody in the Q15 died. I’m not sure how I managed to miss it, but Charles W. Penrose died right smack dab in the middle, in 1925, so that’s not actually true. After I’ve made such an egregious error, I’ll understand if you take my lists with even more grains of salt than usual.)

Months Ending month Ending event
 109 2004 July Neal A. Maxwell died
 76 1896 April Moses Thatcher released
 73 1970 January David O. McKay died
 72 1931 May Orson F. Whitney died
 67 current N/A
 62 1994 Feb Marvin J. Ashton died
 60 1854 Mar Willard Richards died
 57 1866 July Joseph F. Smith ordained
 57 1916 November Francis M. Lyman died
 55 1875 September George A. Smith died

The current streak is only the fifth longest, but it’s less than a year from becoming the second longest. Given this, and the fact that we’re only a decade removed from a time when nobody in the Q15 died for almost a decade straight, it’s no surprise that today’s Q15 is the oldest ever.

To make the recent increases easier to see, I’ve made another version of the graph that covers only George Albert Smith’s presidency to the present. The reason all the slopes of the lines look flatter is that there are fewer years represented, but I’ve kept the width of the graph the same. Also, I’ve moved the bottom of the graph up from 20 years to 30, since nobody younger than 30 was called during this time period.

GA age 1945-2014You can see the decade-long period with no deaths in the long straight portion of the median (blue) line that starts shortly after President Hinckley’s presidency began. At the beginning of that period, the median age was below 70; by the end, it was approaching 80. The current run began similarly, just shortly into President Monson’s presidency, and has pushed the median from the late 70s to the early 80s.

So what does the future hold? I was interested to find when looking back at my 2009 post that I had prophesied guessed in the comments that Q15 age might continue to increase:

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.

And in a recent post at BCC, Kyle M speculated that medical advances might in the near future push lifespans up suddenly, leading to Q15 members living to ages that are at the moment unthinkable:

There will be all kinds of weird societal upheavals if human life spans increase either incrementally or exponentially. But what does it mean for our general authorities? It means there’s a real possibility that one of the next couple prophets will win the science jackpot and lead the church for a LONG time. It’s impossible to say who this will be, obviously.

I’m interested to hear your speculations and predictions, or any other comments on the past pattern of aging in the Q15.



  1. My thoughts go back to Hugh B. Brown’s time. Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of emeritus status for the 12. It strikes me as a completely human idea to base the calling of a a Church President/Prophet on how long they outlive others. Think about it. God couldn’t call Uchtdorf to be his Prophet even if He wanted to. We’ve handicapped God through a man-made tradition of seniority. The Bretheren would likely install a future church president who was, let’s say senile or a vegetable, all in order to stick with tradition, rather than to call a person based on their unique gifts and abilities. Honestly, the Catholic Cardinals have a better system in choosing the Pope. If we did something like that think about how inspired and awesome our Church president would likely be?! Silver Fox could be like another Pope Francis among Mormonism.

  2. Ziff, your posts are always completely brilliant. I admit that I’m going with the actuarial tables and predicting 3-4 dropping off in the next 12 months. Maybe 2-3 that are expected due to age or health, and one that kinda comes out of nowhere.

  3. Didn’t you also post about who is most likely to die next? Can you link to it?

    If I remember correctly Packer, Perry and Monson are most likely to die next which would make Oaks president of the church for a time. So the question is: does anyone think Packer or Monson can hold out for another 9 months? Most folks are speculating no.

  4. Liz, thanks! And your suspicion sounds like reasonable to me. Just anecdotally, some of the oldest Q15 members don’t look well when they’ve spoken in Conference recently.

    Jenne, here’s the post where I looked at who was likely to be Church president. The analysis isn’t ideal; as some commenters on that thread pointed out, it would be better to just use actuarial tables. But I don’t think it’s too far off.

  5. Would it be helpful to add to your graphs the median age at death for the general male population in the U.S.? It could be our leadership is getting older simply because we are getting older.

  6. Totally agree with Clean Cut. I have a theory, though, that Elder Nelson is immortal. He’s 90 and doesn’t appear to be aging at all. In fact, he’s one day older than President Packer. Who would ever guess that? And bucking tradition is not totally (almost but not totally) out of the question. Back when Joseph Fielding Smith was in line to succeed David O. McKay, Spencer W. Kimball apparently recorded something in his journal to the effect that they might actually get a younger president (H. B. Lee in all likelihood). Didn’t work out that way. A deal was cut, and Smith got to be prophet while Lee ran the show. So who knows? God works in mysterious ways. But in Mormonism, mysterious often means predictable.

  7. I don’t think the senior-apostle-as-next-prophet notion is quite as rigid as CleanCut asserts. Yes, the senior apostle/President of the Quorum of the Twelve becomes the de facto President of the Church during the apostolic interregnum before a new First Presidency is organized. But I’m not aware of anything that would prevent the President of the Q12 from announcing that he has received a revelation that the First Presidency should in fact be reorganized with a more junior apostle (or maybe even a non-apostle) serving as the Church president. And if the President of the Q12 were incapacitated at such a time, I can easily see the other apostles declining to name a successor and carrying on with the apostolic interregnum until the President of the Q12 had either recovered his faculties or passed away.

  8. I can’t see any if the current apostles abdicating ala Pope Benedict if they were to find themselves in line to head the church, but I could maybe see as they age if the one in line for the presidency was completely incapacitated and not able to accept or even comprehend the calling, that the process may be reevaluated and real revelation sought or perhaps skipping to the next in succession. Though it would cause major upheaval. They must have considered this possibility.

  9. I hope that there can be a much broader discussion so that changes can be made. As has been said above there is no requirement that the new president be the president of the 12. Just tradition, but that has to be questioned.

    I would like to see discussion about the next president being called by revelation and on merit, so it would probably be Uchtdorf ( my preference) or Holland. Refer to your posts on most likes for conference talks.

    I would also go for a retirement age for Apostles, but there would probably be no incentive to remain if you were older than the president, so not likely to get the top job. The possibility of retirement should be there.

    There needs to be public discussion so the message gets to the 15 that the members are concerned about the increasing age and incapacity of the leadership, to meaningfully lead let alone receive revelation to get us ahead of the game, rather than being dragged into line with the enlightened world.

    Ziff, have you done one on how much of the past we have had a president who was incapacitated by either strokes or dementia? I read somewhere 50% of the time since ET Benson. Is this also increasing?

  10. That’s a good question, Geoff-Aus. I haven’t ever looked at it. I think it might be difficult to reliably define the borders of when a leader was incapacitated. Maybe you could go with when they don’t give their own talks in Conference, but that would miss issues like President Monson’s, where he’s widely rumored to be suffering from dementia, but he’s still giving his own Conference talks, same as always.

  11. Solution:

    We need to bring back frequent excommunications and re-baptisms for minor infractions. That way, the 12 would get shuffled around a lot, and the person who has gone the longest without “pride” or “stubbornness” would be the next prophet. God could call people to repentance again (e.g. D&C days), fellow members could accuse you, or you could self-nominate yourself for excommunication just like in the good old Nauvoo days.

    Problem solved. You are welcome.

    (You would need to complicate your math quite a bit by adding some sort of frequency of excommunication with speed of re-baptism to your actuarial tables to make predictions. Wouldn’t that be a fun stats problem?)

  12. Ha, annon! That sounds great! As a side effect, General Conference would be followed much more closely so we could all hear the latest news of who was in and who was out, and what order their seniority had been shuffled to.

  13. Good point! Wow, it would be like days of our lives or the bachelorette… Finally something on Mormonism which would be fast-paced enough to challenge the bloggernacle and mormon twitter followers!!!!! Love it!!!

  14. Actually Cleancut is exactly right.

    The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is a Corporation Sole. It was incorporated as such in 1923 by Heber Grant.

    It is written in the articles of incorporation that the senior apostle (by years of service) shall be the “Sole” upon the death of the current “Sole”.

    They have no leeway whatever to select someone else without formally amending the articles of incorporation.

    Someone far smarter than I would have to comment on the potential tax and legal ramifications of that action.

  15. One wonders if any of the current apostles’ wives has skimmed some cream, just to keep things interesting. 🙂

    Seriously, Ziff, great post. As usual when you fade off into that statistical fog, I follow with rapt attention – and Liz has a point. Although 15 is not a “large number,” actuarially speaking, it would be long odds to get this group through another year without losing one. Still, we’ve been saying that about Elder Packer for, what? A decade, now?

    Pres. Monson has been showing signs of mild stroke for a few years now (caveat – I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.) There was a moment in this last conference when he started slow and then seemed to come out of it and gain his old force and fervor – the contrast was noticeable.

  16. Good question, liz. In this analysis, I rounded everything to the nearest month, and since I was writing in January, the current streak was 67 months through December. So through April (although we still have a week left) it would be 71 months, and in May it can move into a tie for fourth place.

  17. Can you imagine as health care improves their ability to extend the lives of the elderly that we get a whole quorum of men in 90s – 100s? I just . . . there has to be a point where we go emeritus. Eventually.

    but it’s also kind of like waiting for congress to vote in term limits and stop voting themselves raises. Aint gonna happen when you’re essentially voting yourself into oblivion after you’ve been a mormon GA rockstar for decades.


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