Why Is Congress So Old?
Americans under the age of 40 are radically underrepresented in Congress
The incoming Congress is the most racially diverse ever. It has more women than ever. A record number of its members identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
And yet, still, Capitol Hill is boomer-town. Baby boomers make up nearly 70% of the incoming Congress, a radical overrepresentation of a generation that constitutes 21% of all Americans. And while Democrats can take most of the credit for Congress’ diversity along the lines of race, gender, and sexual orientation, they can’t lay any claim to age diversity: There will be more Republican millennials in the 117th Congress than Democratic ones. As of January, a measly 18 Democratic members of the House — out of 222 — will be 40 or younger. A whopping 335 members of Congress will be older than 55. Unless Jon Ossoff wins his senate runoff against David Perdue in Georgia, there will not be, nor has there ever been, a single millennial in the Senate.
The fact that Republican millennials outnumber Democratic ones in Congress is especially egregious given that millennials (born roughly between 1980 and 1996) are much more liberal than their boomer predecessors. It also suggests that the problem isn’t a lack of interest or talent on the left, but a dearth of opportunity within the Democratic Party. As of 2017, a quarter of millennials said they were “consistently liberal” and another third said they were “mostly liberal,” compared to just 2% who said they were “consistently conservative,” and one in 10 who were “mostly conservative.” Millennials are also the most educated generation in American history. There’s no shortage of young Democrats who are politically engaged and qualified for Congress — but few seats are opening up for them to fill, and many young Democrats say that they aren’t seeing an institutional commitment to the future from the party that claims a progressive, forward-looking mantle.
We would expect, of course, that Congress would be older than the general public, for a variety of reasons. The minimum age to serve is 25 for representatives and 30 for senators. Incumbents have an edge in elections, and so members typically stay on as they age, and Americans who make it to 65 live longer now than they did a few decades ago. And…