NCSL Releases In-Depth Report on State Legislator Demographics

12/8/2015

NCSL NewsWashington, D.C.—State lawmakers reflect the people they serve more closely than ever, according to a new joint study by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

New research was released Thursday at the NCSL Capitol Forum in Washington, D.C. The brief, “Who We Elect,” builds on NCSL’s previous research on demographics of state legislators. The analysis covers the gender, ethnicity, education, age, religion and occupation of state legislators across the county.

“The purpose of this project is to take a snapshot of six demographic characteristics of America’s legislators in 2015, compare these characteristics to the past and establish a baseline for future research,” said Karl Kurtz, project lead and NCSL consultant. “We are also interested in how the age, gender, race and ethnicity, occupations, education and religions of state legislators match up with our diverse population.”

NCSL’s latest survey found some significant changes in occupation, gender and racial demographic makeup of state legislators. A few of those findings include:

  • There are six times as many women serving in state legislatures today than in 1971, yet they still make up only one-quarter of state legislators.
  • Holding 13 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans make up 9 percent of state legislators.
  • Hispanic legislators make up 5 percent of state legislators, well short of their 17 percent share of the U.S. population.
  • Forty percent of state legislators have graduate or professional degrees, compared to only 12 percent of the public, but fewer than the two-thirds of members of Congress with advanced degrees.
  • The average age of state legislators is 56 and ages range from 19 to 94.
  • Protestants and Catholics make up 54 percent of state legislators, while 42 percent choose not to report their religious preference.
  • The number of lawyers, farmers and ranchers in state legislators has declined substantially, while people engaged in business make up about 30 percent.

View detailed information on these statistics.

The report resulted from a partnership created by the NCSL and the Pew Charitable Trusts to have a clearer understanding of who represents the U.S. population in state legislatures.

Watch a video of key points from the report by Karl Kurtz


NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.