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In a military organization, the number of members of a given rank is generally lower the higher the rank is: fewer Lt. Commanders than Lieutenants, fewer Captains than Commander and so on. Also, obviously, people advance in rank as they gain experience (and thus age).

Now, on the Enterprise D, there are very few, if any, officers who are over 45 or 50 (also pretty few over 40 IIRC). Among Lt. Commanders and up, it seems the only middle-agers are Picard and for one season, Dr. Pulaski.

Out-of-universe, I suppose there are multiple reasons why this would be the case. But in universe, what's the explanation? Is it that:

  1. Older officers are mostly assigned to starbases or planetary installations?
  2. Officers who don't get promoted to more senior rank tend to retire much earlier?
  3. Picard and Pulaski are the exception, and the overall retirement age for non-admirals is early?

I'd prefer canon sources if possible.

Notes:

  • I'm ignoring Data as a special case; and I'm not sure how Klingon age works, so let's focus on Humans.
  • Not a dupe of this question: that one accepts junior positions, I'm asking about senior ones (but below Captain); that one's for all ships, I'm asking about a specific ship; that one regards named people, I don't care about names. Thus, the answers there don't address my question.
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    Beverly Crusher is 40 in the first season – Valorum Jul 15 '18 at 11:54
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    Not to contradict, but just to confirm: I'm assuming there are canon sources for most of the main cast's character ages somewhere. Have we confirmed they are indeed mostly under 40, or are we just guessing based on the apparent age of the actors? Maybe advances in medical technology / health-awareness culture have lead to people looking younger than they really are, in general, and Picard and Pulaski are simply the exceptions to that rule? (I'm not enough of a Trekkie to know the answer to this myself, which is why I'm asking if it has been confirmed or not) – Steve-O Jul 15 '18 at 12:45
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    While this assertion is true for the main cast, in the show there are several unnamed background cast members who are equally as old as Picard. Scrolling through Memory Alpha might be a good idea – Rebel-Scum Jul 15 '18 at 13:00
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    Starfleet doesn’t have many middle-aged men available, as they’re needed to fill the large number of Incompetent Interfering Admiral positions across the quadrant. – Paul D. Waite Jul 16 '18 at 9:52
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It seems the answer may simply be that Picard hand-picked his senior officers (as mentioned here, based on quotes from TNG episodes: "The Next Phase", "Legacy", "The Pegasus") - and he picked younger officers who impressed him, plus Data apparently. This privilege was likely possible due to Picard himself being a very experienced officer offered the flagship - although this part is purely speculation, and it doesn't seem reasonable for Picard to only pick younger officers. On the other hand, Picard himself first assumed command of the Stargazer at a very young age (as described in TNG: "The Battle"; apparently he was only 28 years old, and it is also unclear whether he kept that command or re-gained it later).

  • 4
    I like this BUT you're going to need to back it up. – Spencer Jul 15 '18 at 21:05
  • @Spencer: I have, with the link. – einpoklum Jul 15 '18 at 21:29
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    @einpoklum The link to Memory-Alpha is helpful. Is it a canon source? The OP asked for canon sources where possible. It is an editable source much like Wikipedia. If the page on Jean Luc Picard quotes other sources (especially canon sources) for that particular fact about Picard, then you can quote the original sources rather than a freely editable page. That would strengthen your answer. :-) – RichS Jul 16 '18 at 6:17
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    @RichS: Memory Alpha is only based on canon sources, Memory Beta is for non-canon sources. – einpoklum Jul 16 '18 at 8:10
  • @RichS: einpoklum is OP! – ThePopMachine Jul 16 '18 at 21:18
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The Enterprise is the Federation’s flagship. That’s not where you assign your middle-aged officers who have been promoted as far as they ever will be; rather it’s where you assign the rising stars who are expected to go on to commands of their own and then flag rank. They will of necessity be quite young, except for the captain.

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    IMO this cannot the reason except perhaps for Command-route officers (Red-shirts). Starfleet Engineers, Scientists, Medical staff - These do not get promoted to Commander, or a higher rank, regardless of their skils and capabilities in their posts. It is a purely optional advancement, and the requirements involve actual command of a ship or a similar unit, as we see in Lt. Commander Troi's candidacy exam. – einpoklum Jul 15 '18 at 14:12
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    Also, if this were the case, why give the flagship to a 50-year-old Captain? To supervise the kindergarten of youngsters? I dunno, doesn't sound convincing. – einpoklum Jul 15 '18 at 14:19
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    You wouldn’t want the most experienced engineers, scientists etc on board? That theory doesn’t hold up – Gaius Jul 15 '18 at 19:58
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    @Gaius: You could argue that the most experienced engineers and scientists run research groups at large bases. But, still, you would definitely want some experienced officers on the flagships, I would think. – einpoklum Jul 15 '18 at 20:41
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    @einpoklum Also, it's demonstatbly false that medical, science, and engineering track officers don't make commander or higher. From TOS, McCoy is known to have made admiral, and Scotty and Spock are known to have made captain (and Spock started as a commander). No – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 16 '18 at 1:53
5

While Starfleet has naval ranks and traditions, and a defense role, it is incorrect to assume it operates in other ways like a 20th century military organization.

As Picard will tell you, "Starfleet is not a military organization, its purpose is exploration." And when scolding Wesley Crusher, "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it's scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based..." which doesn't sound like the first duty of a soldier, but that of a scientist, philosopher, and explorer.

Roddenberry envisioned Starfleet more like the US Coast Guard, an armed governmental organization which fills multiple roles. While technically military, they are not under the Department of Defense, and their purpose is not to make war. Defense is an auxiliary role. Instead, to paraphrase the Primary Duties of the US Coast Guard...

  • assist in the enforcement of laws
  • patrol to enforce those laws
  • promote the safety of life and property
  • develop and maintain aids to navigation
  • engage in research
  • function as a defense force in time of war

I think this sums up the line Starfleet straddles between being a military organization and an armed exploration, patrol, and police force.

Depictions of Starfleet have been more and less militaristic over the years. TOS was fairly militaristic, though very lax for the 1960s, with the apex probably being Wrath of Khan. TNG made the point to be explicitly not militaristic. DS9 showed in great detail the philosophical and organizational struggles Starfleet faced to avoid becoming a military organization while still being able to effectively defend the Federation.


On 20th and 21st century Earth, militaries would expand with war and contract with peace. This contraction left few opportunities for advancement and the ranks would become top heavy with old officers from the previous war. Once war loomed and expansion began, the ranks would swell and new officer positions would open resulting in young officers at high ranks.

For example, on Earth in the 20th century the United States started the Great War with a small army and expanded it to 4 million. The expansion and casualties offered many opportunities for young officers and even enlisted personnel to advance rapidly. With the end of the war it contracted greatly down to a few hundred thousand for two decades. Many officers left the service. Those who remained had to vie for the few positions available. The result was too many officers filling ranks they had too much experience for getting too old.

When the Second World War broke out that process repeated again: the US military rapid expanded, this time to 16 million people. The officers from the First World War and the time between formed and experienced core, but they were joined by a great number of young, fresh officers. And again, as casualties were inflicted more young officers rose through the ranks. General Mark Clark was the youngest 4-star general in the US Army at 48 years old.

After the war the cycle repeated itself, peace meant a contraction of the military and they found themselves once again top heavy.

But while Starfleet does expand to fight the Federation's wars, it does not undergo the severe wartime expansion and peacetime contraction of a 20th century Earth military. Fighting is not Starfleet's primary mission, exploration is, and there's always a constant need for ships to fulfill it. As a result Starfleet maintains a more steady size, steady casualty and retirement rate, and steady need for officers.


Furthermore, in 20th and 21st century Earth military organizations, promotion took on an almost fetish quality. Promotion was tied to power over lesser officers, increased respect, and better pay. Sometimes promotion was a pure seniority system with officers being rewarded with promotion for their years of experience, not for their talent. Rather than stay at a rank and position they were good at, officers could vie to be promoted beyond their capabilities leading to mediocre officers. And rather than promote the most talented officers, the eldest might be promoted instead.

While Starfleet has not completely eliminated this, it is significantly more egalitarian. With the decreased rigidity of rank, particularly in Picard's time, advancing in rank was less a pursuit of power and authority, and more a pursuit of excellence. Enlisted officers got similar quarters and benefits. Certainly in the Federation pay and was not an issue, and age discrimination was greatly reduced.

As a result, the simple 20th century Earth military idea that you advanced in rank with age by climbing over those below you cannot be assumed to be so in Starfleet. Starfleet had a more merit based system and ranks were less important than the job you did.


Instead, Starfleet acts more like a 21st century tech company where merit and role and getting the job done is more important than your official title. Except for everybody, not just white human males.

For example, take Chief O'Brien "the only enlisted man in Starfleet". He's not even an enlisted officer, but he chums around with the DS9 bridge crew. While Chiefs were certainly treated with great respect in 20th century navies for their technical knowledge and vital role in running a ship, they would not be treated as equals by the officers.

For another example of how rank was relatively less important in Starfleet, we regularly see officers of various ranks discussing a problem while on duty freely rather than going through a chain of command. They're respected for their talent and role on the ship, not for their rank. It's only in formal, heated, or disciplinary situations when Starfleet concerns itself about rank.


UPDATE: I can recall two canon instances explicitly about promotion in Starfleet in Picard's time: Riker and Barclay. While there are plenty of instances of someone being promoted, these are distinct as they show the Starfleet process and views around promotion beyond the Academy.

In The Best of Both Worlds Riker has turned down numerous offers for the captains chair, most recently the Melbourne. Both Picard and Admiral Hanson pressure him to reconsider, even though Will is quite content with where he's at. Commander Shelby represents a fresh rising star vying for his job. Riker, at just 31, is starting to feel "old" implying Starfleet officers, at least ones serving on the flagship, are young. Riker ultimately decides to stay where he's happy: as first officer of the Enterprise.

The second is Reg Barclay. In Hollow Pursuits he's a brilliant engineer, but still a Lieutenant Junior Grade. His anxieties have lead him into unprofessional holodeck fantasies. I recall concern that Barclay will remain a Lieutenant his entire career. The episode ends with Barclay solving a mystery that's making him look incompetent and making peace with his holodeck fantasies and anxieties.

In both cases, the concern is not so much with their career as it is whether they're living up to their talent and potential. With Riker it's whether he's afraid of "The Big Chair", and with Barclay it's his crippling anxiety. For Riker the answer was no, he's perfectly comfortable where he's at. For Barclay it's yes, his anxiety is holding him back. But neither are resolved with promotion.

Remaining at their ranks doesn't appear to have harmed either's career nor standing within Starfleet. Quite the contrary. We never hear about Riker's promotion offers again. Non-canon sources have him captaining the Titan, and the anti-time future shows him promoted to Admiral.

Barclay is promoted to full Lieutenant and remains there for, as far as we know, the rest of his career. He becomes a respected engineer at Jupiter Station, then returns to the Enterprise E, and finally is a key member of the Pathfinder Project to communicate with Voyager.

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    "Except for everybody, not just white human males." seems rather unnecessary, confusing, possibly confrontational piece of text... I'm not even sure which way you intend it to be interpreted (and this isn't the forum for explaining that, so no need to clarify). – hyde Jul 16 '18 at 7:12
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    @hyde: Come on, the discrimination against non-humans in tech is established now beyond any reasonable doubt! – PLL Jul 16 '18 at 8:23
  • "Starfleet is not a military organization"? It is most definitely a military organization, particularly with respect to structure and rank. It's just that the Federation is a highly-militarized society at the inter-planetary level, so many functions which are non-military in essence have been taken over by the military. – einpoklum Jul 16 '18 at 21:44
  • @einpoklum While Starfleet is structured with ranks and naval traditions and has a defense role, it is not military. Roddenberry called it something more akin to the US Coast Guard and TNG exemplifies that. Picard said "The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth. Whether it's scientific truth, or historical truth, or personal truth. It is the guiding principle upon which Starfleet is based." (The First Duty) which is not the first duty of a soldier. He also flatly states "Starfleet is not a military organization, its purpose is exploration." (Peak Performance) – Schwern Jul 16 '18 at 21:53
  • @Schwern - Since the US Coast Guard is explicitly part of the Armed Forces, your comparison doesn’t make sense... – Jon Custer Jul 16 '18 at 22:13
1

Has anyone ever tried to calculate Star Fleet's attrition rate?

There were an awful lot of burning, drifting starships in view when (in just one example) the Borg fought their way through to Sector 001.

And how about that time that humpback whale probe came in destroying everything in its path?

There are a couple of Klingon / Cardassian / Jem'Hadar / Romulan wars mixed in there too.

The famous joke is about the death rate of red shirts, but that death rate seems pretty standard for Star Fleet personnel overall. It may be that the Enterprise has few middle-aged senior officers because...there aren't a lot of middle-aged senior officers available for posting.

0

For what it's worth, there are.

For example, we have Nella Daren who is a full commander and leads Stellar Sciences.

enter image description here

This more senior than the various staff positions OP is imagining. So this demonstrates that there are such officers, they just aren't the focus on the TV show. But that's an ex-universe explanation.

In-universe, there may be no explanation merely because the premise is false. Of the officers OP is willing to consider on the "senior staff", we have:

Middle-aged: Picard, Pulaski, Crusher
Younger: Yar, Troi, La Forge, Riker.
(Non-humans excluded by OP.)

Personally, I would not consider this to be overwhelmingly biased.

  • I'm not sure Darren is middle-aged; is there information on how old she is? Also - you're counting Crusher, but she is merely 40... – einpoklum Jul 16 '18 at 21:46
  • @einpoklum: Well, we can argue about what middle-aged is, but I'm going to say that in the case of Crusher, having a serving ensign for a son, and for Daren, dating the 64-year old captain are good enough to count as middle-aged. – ThePopMachine Jul 16 '18 at 21:50
  • And that means Crusher ranged from 40-47. – ThePopMachine Jul 16 '18 at 21:51
  • This seems to suggest the various definitions put the lower end at 40-45 and the upper end at 60-65. – ThePopMachine Jul 16 '18 at 21:53
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OK so let's actually address a few things.

  1. There are actually no cannon ages for some of the Characters. Dr Crusher is 40 in the first season. (Gates Mcfadden was 38 at the time) Riker is 29.... Yes 29 in the First Season. (Which is 5 years younger then his actor)

So we can all say that most of the actors are CLOSE to there characters ages. And if you consider this it actually brings up a point.

All the characters are about the right age OTHER THEN RIKER. Which makes sense he is trying to be the youngest captain in star fleet...


We can still figure out how old everyone is in the show with a little math. Riker was 29 at encounter at farpoint. Riker was born in 2335, so far point takes place around 2364.

At the time of shooting the first season. All the main actors where the following ages.

  • Picard
    • Born: 2305
    • Age: 59 (Actor: 47)
  • Dr Crusher
    • Born: 2324
    • Age: 41 (Or 40 as we are told) (Actress: 38)
  • Geordi
    • Born: 2335
    • Age: 29 (Actor: 30)
  • Riker
    • Born: 2335
    • Age: 29 (Actor: 34)
  • Troi
    • Born: 2336
    • Age: 28 (Actress: 32)
  • Data
    • Born: 2338
    • Age: 26 (Actor: 38) (Yes.. I know that data's age means little)
  • Worf
    • Born: 2340
    • Age: 24 (Actor: 34) (Note: Klingons mature slightly faster then Humans, the Age of Eight being about = to the age of 12 according to Worf)

Crusher like Troi got a slight head start. Doctors/Medical being commissioned at the Rank of Lt.JG not Ens.

But everyone is more or less the correct age they should be. The only outliers are actually;

  • Riker, Who is much younger then a commander should be.
  • Data, Who's actually kind of old for a Lt.Commander. Not because of his age but because his activation date means little. He was activated as more or less physically a adult. And while he did have formative years to speak of. It didn't take him as long to learn the skills he needed. But I shalk this down to him simply not choosing to join star fleet right away.

And it should also be pointed out that. Ranks are only available at need past Lt.Commander.

So for instance if Geordi ever wants to move past Lt.Commander he must take a position other then chief engineer of the Enterprise. (Or convince some one in star fleet they need a commander as the Chief engineer)

As a matter of point the only officers who ever most past Lt.Commander do so for one of a few reasons.

  1. They take a Command officer position. (I.E. Be the Captain or 2nd Officer)
  2. Be part of Star Fleet Medical. (Because the Doctors can be promoted for Academic and service based reasons, hence Commander Crusher not being 3rd in Command over a Lt.Commander Data)
  3. Because you want to be a command officer. You see some of the Characters preparing for evaluations to move up in rank, clearly stating that its because they might want to be a Commanding officer some day.

You will every now and then see a character that's a commander mentioned on the ship. But they seam to be in very technical areas and are side characters.

Simply put: They don't just make some one a Commander because they like them. The have a spot open and then fill it.

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