• December 3, 2020

Meet Your New Congress

Almost every member of the new Congress went to college. One in four attended an Ivy League school. One in three is a lawyer. To learn more personal details about the latest crop of federal lawmakers, from average age to military experience, read on.

They average 59 years old. They’re a little bit more diverse than they were, but most are still white men. A majority are married and have kids. One in three is a lawyer.  

Members of the 117th Congress will be seen around Washington for the next month as they hire staff, attend briefings and move into offices before they are sworn in and get to work in January. 

For public affairs and government relations professionals, there are at least 65 new members of Congress to meet, a challenge under even the best of circumstances.  So we asked the data team at Capitol Canary to give us a readout on the new Congress—age, gender, race, education and other biographical data. The result is a pretty good picture of the Congress we’ll be working with for the next two years. Take a look. 

Age, Diversity and Gender

The 117th Congress will have a narrower margin in the House, though it will remain under Democratic control. The House currently stands at 222 Democrats and 211 Republicans, with two races still uncalled, according to the Associated Press. The Senate currently remains in Republican hands, 50 to 48, with two runoff elections in Georgia expected to decide control of the chamber in January. 

The data shown here does not count the two uncalled races (IA-2 and NY-22), the two Senate races in Georgia, or a House race in LA-5 that is headed to a runoff election between two Republicans. That means the data represents 530 of the 535 voting members of Congress. Here’s what they look like:

  • Age. The average age of the incoming Congress is 59, versus 60 in the last Congress as they leave office. House members average 58 and Senate members average 64. The youngest member, North Carolina Republican Madison Cawthorn, is just 25.
  • Gender. Women are better represented than before, making up almost 27 percent of the new Congress, though that is still far from equal representation in a country where they make up about half the population. There are 141 women in the new Congress versus 126 in the previous. All of those gains were made in the House.
    Republican women made huge strides in the House, more than doubling their ranks from 13 to 27, according to Capitol Canary data. However, most women in Congress are Democrats. They account for 106, versus 35 for Republicans.
  • Race. The majority of Congress—about 75 percent—is white. Black lawmakers make up 12 percent of the House, up from 11 percent in the last Congress. Hispanic members make up about 9 percent of the House, roughly the same as the last Congress. In the Senate, Black representation remains unchanged in the 117th Congress at about 3 percent. Hispanic members make up 4 percent, up from 3 percent in the last Congress.
    Of course, percentages don’t always tell the whole story. There were victories for diversity in this year’s election. Washington Democrat Marilyn Strickland and California Republicans Michelle Steel and Young Kim became the first Korean-American women ever elected to Congress. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico is the first Republican Native American woman. Democrat Kaiali’i Kahele is only the second native Hawaiian to represent the state in Congress since it joined the union in 1959.
  • Sexual Orientation. The 117th Congress will have more LGBTQ members than ever before, according to NBC News. New York Democrats Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones will become the first openly gay Black members of Congress. Their election in the House brings the number of LGBTQ lawmakers to 11 in the 117th Congress, including nine in the House and two in the Senate—the most in U.S. history.

College, Marriage and Kids 

Of course, most of that biographical data speaks to how, where and when lawmakers were born, which is not something they can control. What about the choices they make? Here are some things you may not know about the new Congress:

  • Religion. More than 90 percent of the incoming Congress identifies with some form of religious faith. Lawmakers practice more than three dozen religions, according to Capitol Canary data. Much of Congress identifies as Protestant, though denominations differ. Many also practice Catholicism: 7 percent identify as Catholic and 19 percent do so as Roman Catholic. Nine percent are Baptists and 6 percent are Jewish. Three members of Congress are Muslim.
  • Marriage and Children. Almost 80 percent of the 117th Congress is married and virtually the same percentage has children. Yet single parents may be under represented. Almost a quarter of American children under 18 live with one parent, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet California Democrat Katie Porter, who has three children, is widely reported to be the only single mom in Congress. 
  • Education. Most members of the incoming Congress went to college (only three did not). Among those who got a degree, almost a quarter (23 percent) attended an Ivy League school. More than a third of Congress (36 percent) obtained a law degree.
  • Military. About 17 percent of the 117th Congress—less than one in five—served in the military. This number rises and falls over the decades. The current total is down slightly from the 116th Congress. It is far lower than the peak in the 1970s, when roughly three quarters of the Congress had military experience.