Public Choice

, Volume 171, Issue 3–4, pp 409–427 | Cite as

Strategic gerontocracy: why nondemocratic systems produce older leaders



One characteristic of nondemocratic regimes is that leaders cannot be removed from office by legal means: in most authoritarian regimes, no institutional way of dismissing incompetent rulers is available, and overthrowing them is costly. Anticipating this, people who have a say in the selection of the leader are likely to resort to alternative strategies to limit his tenure. In this paper, we examine empirically the “strategic gerontocracy” hypothesis: Because selecting aging leaders is a convenient way of reducing their expected time in office, gerontocracy will become a likely outcome whenever leaders are expected to rule for life. We test this hypothesis using data on political leaders for the period from 1960 to 2008, and find that dictators have shorter life expectancies than democrats at the time they take office. We also observe variations in the life expectancies of dictators: those who are selected by consent are on average closer to death than those who seize power in an irregular manner. This finding suggests that gerontocracy is a consequence of the choice process, since it disappears when dictators self-select into leadership positions.


Gerontocracy Democracy Dictatorship Leadership selection 

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sciences Po Grenoble, PACTEUniv. Grenoble AlpesSaint-Martin-d’HèresFrance
  2. 2.Sciences Po BordeauxCentre Emile DurkheimPessacFrance

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