Congress is Only 19% Women

Jenny Listman
Jan 4, 2018 · 2 min read

Better Than 20 Years Ago, but Still Not Good Enough.

In the past year, a seeming flood of women on both sides of the aisle have declared candidacy in the US for local or Federal office or are participating in programs that get women into the political pipeline. A few off the top of my head, running as challengers are: Jess Phoenix in California, Tabitha Isner in Alabama, and Jenny Wilson in Utah. However, the Center for American Women in Politics has a thorough list. OpenSecrets maintains a list of PACs and their contributions broken down by party that support women candidates for Federal office.

While the percentage of women in the House and Senate has increased over the past twenty years from 12% in 1997 to 19% in 2016, data maintained by the Center for American Women in Politics show that in 2017 it was only 19.6%. Twenty-one women (21%) serve in the Senate, and 84 (19.3%) in the House of Representatives. The split by party is 78 Democrat / 27 Republican.

If more women run for Congress, will this result in more women in Congress? The current system for winning elections - a network of gatekeepers made of political insiders, wealthy donors, and business leaders - favors incumbents. Outsiders face an uphill battle.

Some countries (not the US) employ mandatory or voluntary quotas for either the percentage of women candidates or the percentage of women holding parliamentary seats. The quotas do seem to work when they are backed up and facilitated by additional regulations and, according to studies, do not result in less qualified candidates. One study showed the opposite effect with increased competence of both men and women politicians, which the authors suggested was due to the attrition of mediocre male politicians to make room for the required number of women.

I created the above chart based on data from the The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 35 member countries, founded in 1960 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

Thank you for reading.

I welcome constructive feedback — you can “clap” with approval or if you have a specific response or question, message me here. I’m also interested in hearing what topics you’d like covered in future posts. If you’re interested in the R code used for data wrangling & visualizations and a CSV file of the original dataset, see my associated GitHub repository.

Feel free to contact me via Twitter @jblistman or LinkedIn.


  1. Data were obtained from the The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) database.
  2. Data were manipulated and plotted using tools in R.
  3. See my GitHub for the R code used for data wrangling & visualizations and a CSV file of the original dataset.

Jenny Listman

Written by

PhD, mother of 4, New Yorker: data science, data visualization, R,

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