SEAN M. THERIAULT
Moving Up or Moving Out: Career Ceilings and Congressional Retirement
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXIII:419-33

This research note presents a theory of congressional retirement and tests it with data from the 102d Congress. The results bridge the gap between the 1970's macro retirement studies and the more recent micro-centered approaches by highlighting the importance of career ceilings. Defined as the interaction between formal position and years of service, the career ceilings variable can be interpreted as the degree to which the member's career in the House has stagnated. This variable dominates the traditional causes of retirement in the quantitative analysis. In light of the convergence of the unique 1992 retirement causing factors, its power is especially surprising. Not only was 1992 the first election after redistricting and the House bank scandal, but it was also the last chance for members to convert excess campaign cash to personal income. Nevertheless, career ceilings predict retirement much better than any of the 1992-specific variables.


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