Why Are Congressional Democrats Retiring? Because They’re Old!

The big news from Washington this morning is that Barney Frank will not be running for reelection. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake points out that Frank is the ninth Democrat to retire from the House of Representatives without any intention of seeking another office, compared to zero Republicans. In some cases there may be political reasons why a member is retiring, but Congress is such a strange place that few people ever assume someone retires from Congress because they figure they’d rather not be working at, say, age 72 (which is how old Frank will be at the end of his current term).  And age is probably the main reason there are more Democrats retiring than Republicans.

Of the 434 current members of the 112th Congress, 192, or 44%, are Democrats.  But of the 50 longest-serving members of Congress, 29, or 58%, are Democrats. The figures are even more striking for age. Of the 50 oldest members of Congress, 32, or 64%, are Democrats.

When looking at retirements, yes, journalists, analysts and pundits should ponder if there are political reasons for the retirement, such as redistricting, worries about winning reelection, scandal or whether the member thinks her party will retain or regain the majority. But the first question should be about age (and the often related question of health).  If one starts by looking at age, it seems obvious that Democrats should have more retirements, since most of those retiring are in safe districts and don’t have to worry whether their party will hold the seat. Besides, most retiring members of Congress are old enough that if they were in just about any other profession they would probably already have retired.


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