IT’S NOT JUST THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP is a well-seasoned 73 and his three top Democratic Party challengers are also septuagenarians. The average senator is now almost 63 and the average member of the House nearly 58, making them roughly 20 years older than their average constituent, and nearly a decade older than they were in 1981.
Older people today hold disproportionate power because they have the numbers and the means to do so. People 65 and older, for example, are more than three times as likely to make political donations as those under 30. As a result, their voices, amplified by money, carry farther politically than those of the young and impecunious.
There are a lot of voices in their chorus. The American electorate is the oldest it’s been since at least 1970 and is graying at a rapid clip, with the well-off living longer than ever before. By 2034, according to the Census Bureau, the population 65 and older will exceed the population under 18; by 2060 the 65-and-older crowd is projected to have almost doubled. There are some 74 million baby boomers alone, and when election time comes, they turn out in droves. During the 2018 midterms, 64 percent of citizens ages 54 to 72 cast a ballot, compared to 31 percent of eligible voters 29 and under.
“Money, numbers and power have been inexorably accruing to the aging ‘baby boomer’ generation for the last few decades,” the political scientist John Seery warned in his 2011 book “Too Young to Run?” The trends show no signs of slowing. Migration to metropolitan centers by people who tend to be younger and more diverse, along with rural depopulation and aging, will only intensify age-based inequities given the geographic biases of the American electoral system. Call it the coming gerontocracy.
While significant divisions exist within every age cohort (many older people in this country are progressive and poor, just as some young people are rich and right-wing), the divisions between older and younger generations are becoming increasingly salient. Of course, young people are not intrinsically enlightened or virtuous compared to their elders — as someone who just turned 40, I certainly hope that’s not the case — and our society desperately needs older people to participate in public life.