Women are Underrepresented in Local Government, too, New Data Shows

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Women hold fewer than one-third of seats in municipal governments nationwide, comparable to their presence in state and federal offices.

Originally published by The 19th

New state-by-state data shows that women are underrepresented in municipal elected office, in addition to state and federal office. Experts with the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), which collected the data, said the findings dispel the myth that women have more representation in local office.

CAWP on Thursday released data that shows that nationwide, women hold 30.5 percent of municipal offices, including mayoral offices, city councils and other similar bodies. That is comparable to women’s representation in state and federal offices: They make up 30.9 percent of state legislatures and 26.5 percent of Congress.

This marks the first time that CAWP, a leading source for data analysis on women’s political power, has collected more localized data.

“It has been a long-standing aim of ours to be able to take a deeper look at the data on women in local office,” Debbie Walsh, director of the center, said in a statement. “This data already fundamentally shifts our understanding of women’s political representation in America. There isn’t some magical level of office where women have equitable representation. They’re under-represented at similar rates at every level.”

No comprehensive data exists on the racial demographics of the people who serve in local government, though women of color made history around the country in the 2020 general election with wins at the local level. Black women have also increasingly won mayoral races in large American cities.

CivicPulse, a nonprofit firm, estimated last year that the gender gap in local government is “nearly identical” to higher levels of government.

The new data from CAWP draws on information from KnowWho Data Services and is based on incorporated cities and towns with populations over 10,000. CAWP says it will be updated annually and is current as of April 2021.

“Data is an essential tool for diagnosing the representativeness of our political system,” Chelsea Hill, CAWP’s data services manager, said in a statement. “And now, thankfully, we have the evidence to show there’s a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to women in local office.”

Among the findings:

  • The top states for women’s representation in municipal office are Hawaii (50 percent), Alaska (46 percent), and Colorado (44.4 percent). (Hawaii has just one incorporated municipality with more than 10,000 people: Honolulu.)
  • The bottom states for women’s representation in municipal office are Indiana (20.9 percent), Mississippi (19 percent), and Nebraska (17.7 percent)
  • In Nevada, where women make up more than 60 percent of the statehouse, women hold just 42.6 percent of municipal seats.
  • In West Virginia, where women hold just 11.9 percent of statehouse seats, they hold a significantly higher proportion of municipal seats: 24.1 percent.

Barbara Rodriguez is a statehouses reporter at The 19th

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