Predicting Who Will Be Church President (Updated with new Q15 members!)

Knowing that three new members of the Q15 were going to be called at the same time this Conference, I was interested not only in who would be called, but also in how old the new members would be. The Quorum is old: its youngest member going into Conference was Elder Bednar at 63. If a whippersnapper the age of Elder Bednar at the time of his calling (52) or Elder Oaks at the time of his (51) had been called, such a person would have entered the Quorum with a very high probability from day one of eventually becoming Church President.

But, as we’ve seen, no whippersnappers were called. Elder Rasband is 64; Elder Stevenson is 60; Elder Renlund is 62. Elder Bednar did finally lose his position as youngest man in the Q15 to Elder Stevenson, though. He had held this title since he was called over a decade ago.

Here’s an updated look at probabilities of becoming Church President for each Q15 member.

As has been the case since I first looked at this question, the top three in probability are Elders Bednar, Holland, and Oaks. Among the three new members, Elder Stevenson has the highest probability of becoming Church President, but it’s only about one in three. Although the new members are about Elder Bednar’s age or younger, they are all at least four slots junior to him in the Quorum, so there are many other members they would have to outlive in addition to Elder Bednar to make it to the top spot.

One other member to note is President Nelson, whose probability has increased the most markedly with the deaths of Elder Perry and President Packer. (His probability was not affected by Elder Scott’s death, as he was senior to Elder Scott.) In May, his probability was 23%. Now it is 36%, and that seems likely to be an underestimate as he certainly seems to be in better condition than President Monson is.

The graph below shows probabilities of each Q15 member being Church President across the next 30 years.

It looks like Elders Oaks, Holland, and Bednar are the most likely Church Presidents in succession. Below them are Quorum members who have a fair chance, but are never the most likely at any point in time. These include President Nelson, Elder Hales, President Uchtdorf, and Elder Andersen. And then below them are the men who are really long shots, like President Eyring, whose yearly probability tops out at 5% in the late 2020s.

Note that both the chart at the top of this post and the graph above were created using Google Sheets and their calculations use a spreadsheet function that checks the current date, so they will remain continuously updated.


If you’re a regular ZD reader, you’ve probably heard me describe this several times, but just in case you aren’t, here’s how I came up with the numbers in the chart and the graph. They come from two pieces of information about each Q15 member–his age and where he falls in the Quorum in seniority–and from a mortality table that tells expected mortality for American men at particular ages. The mortality table I use is from the Society of Actuaries (SOA), specifically the section for white collar males. For all ages up until 80, I used values for “employee,” and for ages after, I used those for “healthy annuitant.” I converted the raw mortality table (probability of death in the next year given current age) to a cumulative probability of death for convenience in the simulation.

For each Q15 member, I used a random number generator to draw a random value between zero and one, and then looked up his current age in the mortality table to find his age at death implied by the random number. Once I had each Q15 member’s age at death, it was a simple matter to figure out, for each member, whether he would be President or not. If he outlived all members senior to him, he would become President. If not, he wouldn’t. To find if a member would be the next President, I checked that (1) he outlived President Monson, and (2) President Monson outlived all other members between the two of them in seniority.

I repeated the entire process 10,000 times (up from 1000 in my previous post). I calculated the probabilities as the proportion of the 10,000 simulation runs in which the event occurred (e.g., the member became President).

The graph doesn’t even require a simulation. The probabilities are calculated from the cumulative probability of death table. President Monson’s probability is just his probability of surviving at each year in the future (since he’s already Church President). For all other members, their probabilities of being Church President at each year are calculated as the probability that they are still living multiplied by the probability that the men senior to them have all died.

12 thoughts on “Predicting Who Will Be Church President (Updated with new Q15 members!)

  1. 1

    Fascinating numbers. I think you’re right about President Nelson, though. If he doesn’t live to be 100, I’ll be surprised. When you consider that he and President Packer were one day apart in age, you realize how relatively healthy he is. But, of course, anything can happen (see Elder Perry). The saga of Presidents Lee and Kimball is also a cautionary tale. I just hope I live long enough to see this all unfold.

  2. 2

    It looks like we may be gearing up for a future wave of closely timed deaths in the Q15. There are 5 apostles within 4 years of age in their 60s. More from this same age group could easily be called in the future. We are still not where we were after Elder Scott was called, with 6 within 4 years of age and several others just a little older (Elder Perry) or a little younger (Elder Oaks and now Hales and Eyring).

  3. 3

    Does anyone know why Elder Renlund is junior to Elder Stevenson? I thought when multiple apostles are called they are ordained in order of age, oldest to youngest. For example, Ezra Taft Benson was ordained after Spencer W. Kimball.

  4. 4

    Thanks, Lew Scannon!

    That’s a great point, el oso. I hadn’t ever thought of looking at that, but I think you’re exactly right. When several men of similar ages are called, it sets the quorum up to have several of them die around the same time.

    Good question, AM. I had wondered the same thing. I read the speculation somewhere (sorry, probably in a Facebook group) that the plan had already been made prior to Elder Scott’s death to call Elders Rasband and Stevenson. Then when Elder Scott died, they added Elder Renlund, but didn’t re-order them by age. I have no idea if it’s right, but it certainly seems plausible.

  5. 5

    It was suggested to me that Elder Renlund was ranked after Elder Stevenson because he had been a General Authority for a shorter time.

    I note that apparently the last time three apostles were sustained on the same day,in 1906,the oldest (Orson Ferguson Whitney 1855-1931) was ranked in between George F. Richards (1861-1950) and David O. McKay (1873-1970).

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  7. 7

    Interesting predictions! One comment- you mentioned that President Nelson is never the most likely to be Church President. I suppose that’s true because the graph predicts President Nelson having a lower probability than President Monson. However, since you acknowledge the President Nelson’s health is better than President Monson’s, it is worth noting that there is a window where he has a higher probability of being the NEXT president than anyone else in line. We are, of course, currently within that window.

  8. 8

    Will there be an auto-updating version as there was before?
    We’re coming up on the anniversary of Packer’s death and Bednar just turned 64.

  9. 9

    This is an auto-updating version. If you look at the table above, it now shows Elder Bednar as being 64.

  10. Pingback: Estimating New Q15 Member Calls by Future Church Presidents | Zelophehad’s Daughters

  11. 11

    Does the graph also auto-update?

    Following links to various analyses,I see stats predicting Monson to die in 2019,Oaks in 2021,Holland in 2026,Bednar in 2036…it doesn’t seem likely to me that the later ones would actually die that young,compared to predecessors
    (post-1951 presidents have died at 96,95,74,90,94,87,and 97 so far).

  12. 12

    Yes, it auto-updates. The actuarial table I’m using will probably always on average underestimate life expectancies for GAs because, for example, it doesn’t have an adjustment for the fact that they’ve (likely) never used tobacco.

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