The United States is not known for respecting its elderly, who are often overlooked, perceived as lacking the value of the young who are still likely to be in the workforce. Yet, some of the country’s oldest living citizens are, and continue to be, among the most influential Americans.
24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of American citizens who are at least 80 years old — living legends, whose contributions have had a permanent effect on our society. Many of these Americans, despite being over 80 years old, continue to go to work every day. Some have worked at the top of their industries for over half a century. Others are retired, but their work continues to have a lasting impact on every aspect of American life.
Businesspeople, entertainers and artists, politicians and government officials, scientists and academics, authors, and athletes are all well-represented among the 80 Most Influential Americans Over 80.
It is not always clear what achievements will stand the test of time. The effect of recent accomplishments lauded as truly great may fade in coming decades. For many of the people on the 80 Most Influential Americans Over 80 list, their work was done over the greater part of their lifetimes. Without exception, each of these individuals have had an unquestionable contribution to society.
Most of the people on this list will go down in history, with life works that have redefined their fields, often to the point that their influence spills into other aspects of society. The level of influence of a person’s life work often needs to be evaluated in the context of his or her profession. For instance, some of the “80 over 80” are film stars or athletes, whose fame, visibility and reach — by the nature of their profession — dwarfs that of academics and artists. However, the influence celebrities have may seem to pale when measured against the influence of a Supreme Court justice, president, or great inventor.
While some of the individuals on this list have retired, many are still producing work, speaking publicly, and otherwise shaping a new generation of talent in their field. Chuck Berry, one of the pioneers of rock and roll, is set to put out another album. Noam Chomsky, one of the most cited intellectuals of all time, is still writing books. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still making judicial decisions that will impact every living American and those yet to be born.
It is immediately clear that men dominate the list. Just 11 of the 80 most influential Americans are women. This unfortunate lack of diversity is a byproduct of how, outside of a few occupations for much of the 20th century, it was unheard of for women to wield significant influence. These women were born less than two decades after their gender gained the right to vote. Most of the women that made our list had to overcome oppressive disadvantages to earn the respect they deserved in their fields.
The opportunities for non-white men to wield tremendous influence, especially for most of the 20th century, was very limited. While African Americans, for example, are well represented among the entertainers on this list, they are not especially common among the most influential living government officials or business leaders over 80.
These are the most influential Americans over 80 — in no particular order.