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Indiana Statehouse: Where are the Women?

At the Indiana Statehouse, 21 percent of lawmakers are female. Credit: Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons
At the Indiana Statehouse, 21 percent of lawmakers are female. Credit: Massimo Catarinella/Wikimedia Commons

December 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – A government of the people and by the people? New research says the adage rings only somewhat true at Indiana's Statehouse.

A new series from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Stateline project examines the demographics of state legislatures. The first installment, released Tuesday, focuses on gender.

Stateline Editor Jeffrey Stinson said nationally, the percentage of female state lawmakers has increased from the 1970s, when they held just five percent of the seats. But it has stalled over the last decade.

"Women now only have about 25 percent," said Stinson. "That's far greater than it was 50 years ago, but it has plateaued even as the percentage of women in population has grown."

In Indiana, 21 percent of state legislative seats are held by women. And the Stateline research found nationally, one in three Democratic state legislators is a woman, and one in five Republican state lawmakers is female.

When looking at occupations, the research indicates most state legislatures are dominated by people in business. And Stinson noted that in the last decade, there has been a surprising decline in the number of attorneys in office.

"Now, whether that's good or bad probably depends on what one thinks of lawyers," he chuckled, "whether you want people who are law-trained making your laws, or whether you think that lawyers will sit there and bog things down."

The Pew findings indicate the educational level of state lawmakers is higher than the general population, which Stinson said wasn't surprising.

"You may well want somebody smarter than you or more educated than you," he said. "But by the same token, we are a democracy and, in many ways, we want people who are like us to represent us."

He added that lawmakers also tend to skew older, with baby boomers comprising more than half of state legislative seats.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN