by Morgan Cullen
Our analysis of state legislator ages in 2008 shows that 47.9% of legislators presently serve between the ages of 50-64 years of age. This age range accounts for nearly half of all legislators presently serving and is almost two times larger than any other age group.
There are many contributing factors to why a majority of legislators decide to run for elected office during this period of their lives. Candidates running for office from this age group have a broad range of professional experience making them more electable. Family responsibilities have often been significantly reduced since children are often fully grown. And the 50-64 age group is also the most financially stable, a benefit of many productive years in the workforce. According to US Census data, this age group only makes up 17.5% of the total US population which is significantly less than their representation in state legislatures.
Conversely, only 3.8% of legislators nationwide fall into the 20-34 year old category (and less than 1% are under 30 years of age). This is by far the lowest percentage of any other age group. There are several factors contributing to the low number of legislators serving in their 20s and early 30s but the most obvious is their lack of professional experience. Candidates seeking elected office during this period of their lives are at a competitive disadvantage to their older and more experienced opponents.
Here are some other interesting trivia from the data:
• Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota are the only state legislatures in the country in which at least 10% of the members are between the ages of 20-34.
• 40% of the legislators in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and North Carolina are 65 years or older.
• In 18 state legislatures 70% or more of the legislators fall into the 50-64 age range.
This analysis of age data is based on information from 69% of all state legislators in the country. For a complete demographic overview of our nation's state legislatures check out our new interactive map on the NCSL website. It allows you to examine the makeup of each state’s legislature by ethnicity, gender, age, religion and occupation and compare those figures to national averages.
NCSL's new interactive map can be found on our website.