There was a mini-kerfuffle Thursday as something new happened in a place where new things don’t happen very often. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) brought her newborn daughter Maile to the floor of the Senate for a vote. There was some question about whether older, male-r senators were totally clear on what a diaper bag was, but in the end, Maile and the senator cast the vote and the republic remained intact.
Maile was certainly the youngest person ever to have been on the floor of the Senate while it was in session. A she was born 10 days ago, it’s a tough record to break. But it made me wonder just how young Maile was relative to your average senator. There have been some … distinguished representatives in that body. Which was greater, I wondered — the gap between Maile and the median age of a new senator or the gap between that median age and the oldest people who’ve ever joined the Senate?
As it turns out, the former is larger — but by less than it might seem.
The median age of a senator on joining the body is 49 years. That’s changed over time; in the 2000s it was 54, tying the figure from the 1930s. In the 1790s, it was only 40, the lowest figure. So the gap between Maile and the median age for a senator is 49 years; the gap between the median senator and the oldest two to join the body is 38 years.
However! If we’re just looking at how many senators have been closer to Maile’s age than to the age of Sens. Rebecca Felton and Andrew Houston, the answer is 579. Fully 3 in 10 new senators have been closer in age to Maile Pearl Bowlsbey than to the oldest two people to join the Senate. (Neither lasted very long: Felton served for only 24 hours after an honorary appointment and Houston died two months after his appointment.)
There have been 1,911 senators for whom the GovTrack.us data set had a birth date. Of that group, 1,332 were 44 or older when they first became senators. If Maile is ambitious, she could match John Henry Eaton and join the Senate at age 28 in 2045. That would take some doing, given that you have to be 30 to serve. How’d Eaton beat the limit? No one asked how old he was. Maile will probably not be able to get away with that.
What does all of this mean? I’m glad you asked. I have no idea. But the graph looks nice.