Should Congress have maximum age limits?
- The oldest member of Congress in US history was Representative Ralph Hall from Texas, who retired at age 91.
- In the US, the full retirement age (FRA), which “refers to the age you must reach to be eligible to receive full benefits from Social Security,” varies from age 66-67, depending on what year you were born.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 was established “to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment.”
- Over 33 US states enforce mandatory retirement for their state judges ranging from 70 to 90 years old.
The average age of the 115th Congress is 57.8 for the House of Representatives and 61.8 for the Senate. While some believe this represents an upward trend, this Congress is not significantly older than the 111th. There are several reasons why Congress members tend to be advanced in years, and the solution to making sure constituents are adequately represented in government is not found in enacting a maximum age limit on our esteemed elected officials.
One of the reasons why Congress members tend to be older is because to run successfully, it is important to have years of experience in lower government positions. These members should be recognized for their expertise, not denigrated or discriminated for their ages. While some may argue that having no cap on a Congress member's age may make them more prone to dementia, it is possible to be of sound mind well into one's 90s. In fact, studies have shown that the increase in incidence rates of dementia actually slows down past the age of 64. Older adults have also exhibited greater prosocial and empathetic behavior than their younger counterparts, which are positive traits for a leader.
Older adults are also more representative of the population as a whole. Because of the baby boomer generation, the proportion of older adults compared to younger adults has significantly increased. And if Congress members fail to represent the viewpoints of younger generations, those constituents have the power to vote them out. Typically, though, the younger generations are the least likely to show up to vote. As a result, any over-representation of the older generation should be resolved by voter turnout, not by mandatory retirement.
Democracy requires a consistent exchange of representative power for diverse opinions, new ideas, and avoiding absolutism. Rather than running for Congress until death, Congress members ought to recognize that 'fresh blood,' so to speak, is necessary to protect and diversify the democratic system so it works better for everyone. Maximum congressional age limits help with this effort.
Minimum age limits exist in the US Senate and the House of Representatives to guarantee members will be stable and established enough to hold office effectively. Maximum age limits do the same. Beyond preventing egregious abuses of power, maximum age limits take into account that older members of Congress are more likely to die while in office, not to mention other age-related health issues. While health should not be the sole determinant in this debate, it's worth consideration, especially since the government generalizes all people under 25 as incapable of successfully holding office.
Maximum age limits combat the 'incumbency advantage.' Statistically speaking, incumbents are favored to win elections due to name recognition, funding, and piggybacking off of same-party presidential popularity. Elements that bolster incumbency advantage positively correlate with longer congressional runs as politicians build their reputation and capital. As a result, new people don't have the opportunity to be formidable opponents. Even those who want to challenge long time incumbents within their own parties during primaries don't have the means to do so. Whether it's Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi, they aren't just harming the other side—they're blocking fellow party members from ever entering Congress. They're also preventing citizens from discovering new and, potentially, better candidates who have different strengths, ideas, and resources.