This does not necessarily jive with your stats about audiences skewing older, since GenX is now solidly into our mid-40s and beyond.
Perhaps its less generational and more age-focused, as perspective accumulated over years gives the viewer a greater appreciation of what’s discussed on the news, and a greater connection to the larger world in which the stories are being told.
I’m betting that in the 80s, your viewership percentage of the flagship eveningnews by 20-somethings was also relatively low (though perhaps skewed by the lack of available options given that cable had yet to proliferate). I didn’t watch a lot of the evening news in the 90s. I watch a lot more now, and it’s not the Trump effect.
Time-bound broadcast times have also changed audiences over the years (b/c who the hell DVR’s the news?). How often are 20-year-olds at home at a dinner table during the 6-o’clock news hour? Compare that with the likelihood that 40-somethings (many with kids) are home during that hour, and have the news on.
It’s not just a generational thing; it’s a “where-are-you-in-your-life” thing, too.