A subtle generational shift taking shape in the Kansas Legislature
When the Kansas Senate elected Republican Ty Masterson to succeed Susan Wagle as Senate president earlier this year, it wasn’t just a passing of the political torch but a generational one too.
Born in 1969, Masterson is the first member of Generation X to serve as president of the Senate. Across the rotunda is House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., born in 1971, who in 2017 became the first Gen Xer to serve in that post.
The baby boom generation still dominates the Legislature, and there are still more members of the silent generation, ages 76 and above, than Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 24.
But younger generations made significant gains in the 2020 elections, according to birth year data analyzed by The Journal using the Pew Research Center’s generational classifications. The number of Gen X, millennial and Gen Z members increased by nearly 33% from 2020 to 2021 to now account for 61 of the Legislature’s 165 lawmakers.
The gains were particularly noteworthy in the Senate, which added two millennials, Sens. Kristen O’Shea and Ethan Corson, and five Gen X members. The House added one Gen Xer, five millennials, and two members whose birth years put them in Generation Z, Reps. Aaron Coleman and Avery Anderson.
Boomers, born from 1946 through 1964, still have the majority, accounting for 56% of the House and nearly 68% of the Senate. But that’s down from 59% and 83% in the previous session. That puts the Kansas Legislature more in line with Congress, where 53% of representatives and 68% of senators are baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center.
But the rate of change is still slow in Kansas.
The median birth year for lawmakers jumped only slightly, from 1957 to 1959, and 40% of legislators will be age 65 or older this year even though that age group makes up only about 20% of the voting-age population. Those younger than 45 make up only about 21% of the Legislature despite being about 45% of the voting-age population.
What Kansas faces isn’t much different from the nation as a whole, where many of the top authority figures, including President Joe Biden, are in their late 70s. But it raises questions about not only how the composition of the Legislature might affect the way it shapes public policy, but also about how well society has prepared those who will step in once the long-dominant baby boom generation finally steps aside.
A version of this article appears in the Spring 2021 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.
Sign up for email updates about The Journal’s content.