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Why Are There So Many Boomers In Congress?


Geoffrey Skelley: Congress is old. In fact, it’s gotten steadily older over the past few decades. In 1981, the median age was about 49 for a representative and about 52 for a senator. In 2023, those numbers are 58 and 65! And this has major implications for the issues the legislature cares about.

So, what’s going on? It’s the boomers, man. Baby boomers, as the name suggests, are a really big generation. According to the 2020 census, they make up slightly more than 20 percent of the population. But they have a much bigger role in Congress: Almost half of all senators and representatives are baby boomers!

Boomers are now between roughly 58 and 77 years old. And they’ve built up the wealth and resources that make it easier to win elections. On top of that, incumbents usually win reelection. So once they’ve gotten into office, most boomers have stuck around for a while. Add to that the fact the average lifespan has mostly increased over time, and you get a really old Congress.

So, why does this matter? Well, we know that members of Congress are influenced by their identity and background, and older members are more likely to be attuned to the concerns of fellow older Americans thanks to shared worries, experiences and values. And that can be a good thing as seniors are a vulnerable group due to health care and assisted-living challenges.

But that also means that they may focus less on issues that are especially important to younger people, like housing, student debt and climate change. Also, many of the big issues being decided by Congress involve technology. Things like regulating social media, or artificial intelligence, or cryptocurrency. And while sometimes it’s a stereotype that older people are less tech-savvy, sometimes … it’s not.

Sen. Ted Stevens: The internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s, it’s a series of tubes.

Sen. Chuck Schumer: Remember everybody. Not very tech-oriented. Here it is.

Geoffrey Skelley: Of course, younger politicians may overlook the needs of their older constituents. So we’ll have to hope that the saying is true, that old age brings wisdom.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Anna Rothschild was FiveThirtyEight’s senior producer for video.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.


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