Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 4th of November 2016 to The Sounding Line.
In our recently posted article, Congress – The Art of Incumbency Part I (link here), we reflected on the disturbingly poor and declining approval ratings of the US Congress and the seemingly incongruous fact that members of Congress are serving more and more terms despite being liked less and less. Having built a database of the over 13,000 members of Congress since 1789 in order to produce the graphs for the previous article, we decided to see what other interesting trends would emerge from the dataset.
The logical next question that sprung to mind was: “how has the average age of members of Congress changed since its inception?”
The cynic might suspect that, in addition to being increasingly disliked and out of touch, Congress may be getting increasingly old. It should come as little surprise that that is exactly the case. The two charts below show the average age of serving members of the House of Representatives and the Senate every year since 1789 (the few members whose birth dates are unknown were excluded). Both charts show the unmistakable trend toward an older and older Congress. Remarkably, the average age in the House of Representatives has surged from around 52 in 1995 to its all-time high of nearly 60 today and the average age in the Senate is even higher at nearly 65.
It would be baseless to say that seniority, and the experience that it brings, should be viewed negatively across the board as there have been great leaders much older than 65. Yet, when taken within the context of Congress’s dismal approval rating, the overwhelming feeling of Americans that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and the fact that members of Congress are serving for longer and longer, the aging of Congress does not seem emblematic of a healthy institution. To the contrary, it seems symptomatic of an insular and out of step group that is failing to create a relevant vision for America.
In nearly all ways: technological, social, and economical, we are living in a rapidly changing world. It seems that perhaps the only thing that isn’t changing is the people’s representation in Congress.
As a reminder from Congress – The Art of Incumbency Part I (link here)
Having accounted for the careers of over 13,000 Congress men and women, over a period of 227 years, we are able to chart the average years served, or ‘tenure’, of the House of Representatives and the Senate every year from 1789 until today.
As you might suspect, and as the charts below testify, there has been an unmistakable trend towards Representatives and Senators serving more and more terms. Until the start of the 20th century, the average years served in the House was typically less than four years, equivalent to about two terms. After that, the average tenure started to rise dramatically, hitting a high of 12 years or six terms in 2008. The Senate follows a similar trend going from four to five years (a single term is six years) for the first 100 plus years of American history to a high of about 15 years (just under three terms) in 2008.
While the average tenure has declined slightly since 2008, there is no indication that the long trend towards Congress members serving more and more terms is going anywhere. The current batch of Congress men and women are nearly the most ‘incumbent’ of all time.
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