The NCSL Blog


By Katie Ziegler

This is a banner year for women in state legislatures, as 2018 marks the first time that the share of female legislators nationwide has crossed 25 percent.

Delegate Kathy Tran (D) holds her daughter Elise during her swearing-in ceremony at the Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday morning. Tran is among the 28 women now serving in the chamber, a record high. (Timothy C. Wright for the Washington Post.)Though the 1,866 women serving in legislatures is just a couple dozen more than in 2017, crossing the one-quarter threshold is highly symbolic. It has taken quite a while to get here.

The share of women in legislatures reached 20 percent following the 1992 election, dubbed the “Year of the Woman” because of a record number of women elected to the U.S. Senate. In the following years, however, the number of women at the state level grew quite slowly, with a notable flatlining over the past decade.

The 2017 election in the Virginia House of Delegates, plus a number of special elections in the fall, was largely responsible for the increase.

Women made headlines in Virginia for running, and winning, in large numbers. The Virginia House has 11 additional women serving this year, and many of those women defeated sitting legislators, upending some of the traditional wisdom about the power of incumbency. Those results have kept the surge of women considering elective office going at a steady clip.

Partisan and nonpartisan organizations that recruit and train women to run for office report unprecedented levels of interest. The majority of female legislators are Democrats (about 62 percent), and most media attention has been on Democratic women planning to run, but Republican groups are recruiting women as well.

As filing deadlines and state primaries pass in the coming months, we’ll have a better understanding of the pool of female candidates for state legislative seats. Stay tuned to NCSL for the latest!

Katie Ziegler is the program manager of NCSL's Women's Legislative Network.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.