Is the elderly population under-represented in congress?

Hi everyone,

I’m currently in the process of analyzing a potential obstacle in the way of improving life for the elderly: the idea that the elderly suffer from under-representation in congresses and governments, with no powerful lobbying groups on their side.

What do you think about that? I know that in the U.S. we have the AARP which represents the elderly community . However, even though in 1999 it was ranked as the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, and has reached the peak of its lobbying capacity in 2005 and 2008, since then it has sunk all the way down to number 54 in its lobbying ranking in 2015.

So do you think the elderly are well-represented in the States? What about Europe, Africa, and Asia? Would love to hear from experts on public policy in particular!

Live long and prosper,

Roey.

I’m not sure about lobbying groups in the EU, and how much power they have, but I do know that in a few European countries, including the Netherlands, parties specifically representing the elderly have emerged in recent years. I don’t believe any has yet been in government, though.

I would argue we need to consider not only lobbying and interest groups, but also the voting power of seniors. In almost all countries, the older people get the more likely they are to vote.

Here are figures from the US Census on that:

Source

That’s interesting. But I’ll offer a counter to that: old people tend to vote for the same parties / ideaologies they always have before. Could it be that there is a disconnect between the power they’re supposed to wield in government (since politicians know they can always count on them), and the power they should gain by having a sword over their representatives heads?

That may apply in two-party systems, like the US, for sure.

In multi-party democracies in continental Europe, it’s easier to switch and when a significant group of voters switches from one party to another, it forces that party to reckon with the reasons.

For example, in the last election in the Netherlands, many pensioners stuck with the Labor Party, but a small group defected to a new seniors’ party, called 50+, and many young voters defected to the Greens, who are more future-oriented. That puts Labor in a bind when it comes to pensions and generational issues. Try to win back older voters by, for example, reversing its support for raising the retirement age? Or try to win back young voters by, for example, adopting a more liberal policy on retirement savings.

When it comes to government representation, I think the issue is not so much that the elderly are underrepresented, but rather that those in power do not (yet) see aging as something that can (or should) be directly addressed with public (or perhaps any kind of) funds. I do wonder how things differ outside the US, but here many of the “third-rail” policies and programs (i.e. those which are ostensibly politically untouchable) are geared toward the elderly, like Social Security and Medicare. This leads me to believe that the obstacle here is not a lack of representation but rather a lack of awareness.

@SamBlake - That sounds about right. I guess this obstacle is not as concrete as I thought it was.

@NickOttens - Thanks for the good advice and the information!

If anyone has anything to add, I would love to read it.

@Roey overall I think Sam and Nick highlighted that in the US the elderly have a disproportionate impact on politics relative to their size in the population (prevalence of voting, embedded interests re: social safety net programs, power of lobbying groups, etc.). i would argue that the probability of the elderly voting for the same party is more a function of US political parties having relatively consistent political platforms over time, not that they are entrenched to one or the other. as Sam’s comment implies, the amount of blowback about making any changes to programs that benefit the elderly means there is a lot of inertia around the status quo.

Great. Thanks, @timsilman !