Old folks' home. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Question Day: Congress Is Older, and So Are We

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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A question from Along, who notes a recent Wonkblog post showing that as members of Congress have grown older, the ratio between the median age in Congress and the median age in the population has gotten smaller. He asks, "Does this make you feel any better about the relationship of our graying pols to their constituents?"

No, it doesn't. I'm not certain that the ratio of median ages is helpful, especially because one of those medians has a lower bound -- that is, both the House and Senate have minimum age requirements (25 and 30, respectively). If the population median was entirely driven by people who reached 50 going on to have longer productive lives, then it would make sense to expect and even want a lot more older people to represent them. I have no problem with that. But a lot of the median age improvement has instead been driven by fewer births per capita and by fewer young people dying. Which doesn't have anything to do with whether senators are in their 30s and 40s, instead of their 60s and 70s.

While I'm on the topic: It doesn't appear that older lawmakers, at least in the Senate, are primarily the result of easier re-election. What seems to be happening (based on a quick study) is that new senators are a lot older than they were a few decades ago. I don't know why, but it means there aren't enough young people in high office.

I'm not sure what the solution is to the Old, Old Senate, though I certainly agree with John Seery that the minimum age requirements for federal office should be dropped. Beyond that, I'm open to any ideas to encourage younger people to run for office.

Keep the questions coming.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View.He is co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012."Follow him onTwitter at @JBPlainblog.)

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net