Legislative Generations

The generational makeup of our legislature is shifting, and it will definitely affect our future as we move further into the crisis.

Our leadership is constantly changing, not just in their political party, but also in the generation they represent. If you look at this chart from the Strauss and Howe website, Lifecourse.com, you can see the shift in the generations over the last 100 years:

Source: Lifecourse.com

This covers only up until 2005 (you can also download a spreadsheet with their source data – very cool!) so I captured the information for 2007 and 2009 from the Congressional Biographical Directory and created a couple charts showing the recent trends.

The first is the number of congressmen (including both house and senate) from each generation in the last three congresses:
You can see that the Boomer (born 1943-1960) numbers hold quite steady (there are more in 2007 than in 2009) and the GI generation (born 1901-1924) is almost non-existent (there are just two or three in congress, so they don’t really show up on the chart). The shift that is beginning to happen is that the Silent (born 1925-1942) are giving up ground to Generation X (born 1961-1981). The chart below isolates these two generations:
Generation X now equals the Silent Generation in Congress, up from around only 35% just four years ago. The shift from Boomer to Generation X will likely take many more years.
The significance of this shift is important. The Silent generational leaders are very knowledgeable, but are not known for decisive action. Generation X, on the other hand, is very practical and won’t get caught in “analysis paralysis”. Gen X leaders often go with their gut and are willing to try things out and evaluate as they go along. This will probably make for faster decisions in congress, but might also mean that those decisions are not as well thought out. You may also notice that there are not any Millennial generation (born 1982~2005) leaders in the Legislature yet, but I expect there will be several in the next congress.

4 thoughts on “Legislative Generations”

  1. One thing I found interesting in the top chart is the steep drop of GI-generation legislators during the years at the end of the cold war. I can’t help but wonder at the relatedness.

    Also, in a way, the generational shifts in the legislature are interesting because, while the Boomers remain a huge distracting bulge in the demographics, I think a lot of the feeling of shift in the government comes from Gen Xers gradually taking over (winning out?) over their “parents”–the Silents. Boomers still seem to make most of the decisions, but I think the X/Silent shift is accounting for much of the present changes in feel and tone.

    1. @Vi, yeah, that legislature chart is interesting. I am still puzzling about the implications of it. And I have to agree that X’ers are going to have a huge impact that is not being recognized. If generational cycle holds true, the X’ers contribution will likely never be recognized.

  2. One thing to keep in mind, is that as more Silents disappear from politics their positions won't entirely be filled by GenXers. GenY will also be moving into politics. I'm not sure how much GenY will compete with GenX. I suspect that GenX as a smaller demographic might look for agreement with GenY in fighting against the Boomer political behemoth. The big battle will be between Boomer and GenY, and GenX will be the deciding vote. Also, GenXers have the opportunity to act as leaders and advisors for GenY.

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