We present the results of fitting deep off-nuclear optical spectroscopy of radio-quiet quasars, radio-loud quasars and radio galaxies at z ~ 0.2 with evolutionary synthesis models of galaxy evolution. Our aim was to determine the age of the dynamically dominant stellar populations in the hos t galaxies of these three classes of powerful AGN. Some of our spectra display residual nuclear contamination at the shortest wavelengths, but the detailed quality of the fits longward of the 4000A break provide unequivocal proof, if further proof were needed, that quasars lie in massive galaxies with (at least at z ~ 0.2) evolved stellar populations. By fitting a two-component model we have separated the very blue (starburst and/or AGN contamination) from the redder underlying spectral energy distribution, and find that the hosts of all three classes of AGN are dominated by old stars of age 8 - 14 Gyr. If the blue component is attributed to young stars, we find that, at most, 1% of the baryonic mass of these galaxies is involved in star-formation activity at the epoch of observation. These results strongly support the conclusion reached by McLure et al. (1999) that the host galaxies of luminous quasars are massive ellipticals which formed prior to the peak epoch of quasar activity at z ~ 2.5.
Comment: 24 pages, LaTeX, uses MNRAS style file, incorporates 19 postscript figures, final version, to be published in MNRAS