Mapping The Gerontocracy

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Oct 05, 2023 - 11:20 PM

The passing of California Senator Dianne Feinstein at the age of 90 is throwing a spotlight on America’s political establishment, not only with the government narrowly escaping shutdown, but on questions of ageism, representation, and fitness for office.

Feinstein had a noteworthy career. As the longest-running woman in the Senate’s history, she served the nation’s most populous state.

Yet, as Visual Capitalist's Dorothy Neufeld details below, Feinstein’s growing health complications along with two incidents of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell freezing while speaking this year highlight the growing trend of America’s aging leadership.

The above graphic shows the age of U.S. senators, by state as of October 5, 2023.

How the Age of U.S. Senators Breaks Down

Today, 66% of senators are over the age of 60.

While senators have historically been older than the American population, consider how the median age in the U.S. is 39 according to the 2020 U.S. Census, and the median age of the Senate prior to Feinstein’s passing was 65.

We can see in the below table how the Senate has become growingly older, influenced by longer lifespans and the increased likelihood of members running for re-election (and winning). In addition, members in the Baby Boomer generation, ages 58 to 77 years old, often have more resources and wealth to help secure their seat.

NameSenator AgeStateParty
Grassley, Chuck90IowaRepublican
Sanders, Bernard82VermontIndependent
McConnell, Mitch81KentuckyRepublican
Risch, James E.80IdahoRepublican
Cardin, Benjamin L.80MarylandDemocratic
King, Angus S., Jr.79MaineIndependent
Durbin, Richard J.78IllinoisDemocratic
Blumenthal, Richard77ConnecticutDemocratic
Markey, Edward J.77MassachusettsDemocratic
Carper, Thomas R.76DelawareDemocratic
Shaheen, Jeanne76New HampshireDemocratic
Welch, Peter76VermontDemocratic
Manchin, Joe, III76West VirginiaDemocratic
Romney, Mitt76UtahRepublican
Hirono, Mazie K.75HawaiiDemocratic
Warren, Elizabeth74MassachusettsDemocratic
Wyden, Ron74OregonDemocratic
Stabenow, Debbie73MichiganDemocratic
Reed, Jack73Rhode IslandDemocratic
Schumer, Charles E.72New YorkDemocratic
Murray, Patty72WashingtonDemocratic
Boozman, John72ArkansasRepublican
Crapo, Mike72IdahoRepublican
Wicker, Roger F.72MississippiRepublican
Fischer, Deb72NebraskaRepublican
John W.
Kennedy, John71LouisianaRepublican
Blackburn, Marsha71TennesseeRepublican
Cornyn, John71TexasRepublican
Barrasso, John71WyomingRepublican
Brown, Sherrod70OhioDemocratic
Scott, Rick70FloridaRepublican
Collins, Susan M.70MaineRepublican
Menendez, Robert69New JerseyDemocratic
Tuberville, Tommy69AlabamaRepublican
Braun, Mike69IndianaRepublican
Moran, Jerry69KansasRepublican
Shelley Moore
69West VirginiaRepublican
Lummis, Cynthia M.69WyomingRepublican
Warner, Mark R.68VirginiaDemocratic
Graham, Lindsey68South CarolinaRepublican
Rounds, Mike68South DakotaRepublican
Johnson, Ron68WisconsinRepublican
Tester, Jon67MontanaDemocratic
Whitehouse, Sheldon67Rhode IslandDemocratic
Rosen, Jacky66NevadaDemocratic
Merkley, Jeff66OregonDemocratic
Murkowski, Lisa66AlaskaRepublican
Hoeven, John66North DakotaRepublican
Cassidy, Bill66LouisianaRepublican
Smith, Tina65MinnesotaDemocratic
Margaret Wood
65New HampshireDemocratic
Kaine, Tim65VirginiaDemocratic
Van Hollen, Chris64MarylandDemocratic
Peters, Gary C.64MichiganDemocratic
Cantwell, Maria64WashingtonDemocratic
Hyde-Smith, Cindy64MississippiRepublican
Hagerty, Bill64TennesseeRepublican
Klobuchar, Amy63MinnesotaDemocratic
Robert P., Jr.
Marshall, Roger63KansasRepublican
Tillis, Thom63North CarolinaRepublican
Cramer, Kevin62North DakotaRepublican
Thune, John62South DakotaRepublican
Baldwin, Tammy61WisconsinDemocratic
Daines, Steve61MontanaRepublican
Christopher A.
Paul, Rand60KentuckyRepublican
Kelly, Mark59ArizonaDemocratic
Cortez Masto,
Ricketts, Pete59NebraskaRepublican
Bennet, Michael F.58ColoradoDemocratic
Sullivan, Dan58AlaskaRepublican
Scott, Tim58South CarolinaRepublican
Gillibrand, Kirsten E.56New YorkDemocratic
Duckworth, Tammy55IllinoisDemocratic
Lankford, James55OklahomaRepublican
Raphael G.
Booker, Cory A.54New JerseyDemocratic
Fetterman, John54PennsylvaniaDemocratic
Ernst, Joni53IowaRepublican
Rubio, Marco52FloridaRepublican
Cruz, Ted52TexasRepublican
Lee, Mike52UtahRepublican
Heinrich, Martin51New MexicoDemocratic
Luján, Ben Ray51New MexicoDemocratic
Young, Todd51IndianaRepublican
Budd, Ted51North CarolinaRepublican
Padilla, Alex50CaliforniaDemocratic
Murphy, Christopher50ConnecticutDemocratic
Schatz, Brian50HawaiiDemocratic
Schmitt, Eric48MissouriRepublican
Sinema, Kyrsten47ArizonaIndependent
Cotton, Tom46ArkansasRepublican
Mullin, Markwayne46OklahomaRepublican
Laphonza Butler44CaliforniaDemocratic
Hawley, Josh43MissouriRepublican
Britt, Katie Boyd41AlabamaRepublican
Vance, J.D.39OhioRepublican
Ossoff, Jon36GeorgiaDemocratic

On the other end of the spectrum are nine senators under the age of 50, including Democrat Jon Ossoff of Georgia, at 36, and Republican senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, at 39. Laphonza Butler, 44, the newly appointed senator to replace Feinstein, also falls within this camp.

This trend of an older Senate may have policy ramifications.

Studies show that lawmakers’ identities can influence legislative behavior. Older members of Congress have been shown to have a higher likelihood of introducing legislation on prescription drugs and long-term care, and other issues affecting seniors.

Other studies show that racial minorities, women, and veterans are more likely to intervene in Congress in the interest of these groups.

Top U.S. Senators, by Time in Office

Along with the trend of an older Congress, the average number of years served has also increased.

Today, senators in the 118th Congress have served 11.2 years on average as of January 2023. Over the 20th century, turnover has decreased due to more senators seeking re-election, which stands in contrast to the Senate’s early history when turnover happened more frequently.

Below, we show the currently serving senators that have held office the longest, based on their time in both the Senate and the House:

NameStatePartyNumber of Years in Office
Grassley, ChuckIowaRepublican48 years
Markey, EdMassachusettsDemocrat46 years
Wyden, RonOregonDemocrat42 years
Schumer, Charles E.New YorkDemocrat42 years
McConnell, MitchKentuckyRepublican38 years

Together, the top five U.S. senators have served a combined 216 years in office.