Women lack representation in state

Published 12:00 pm Monday, December 28, 2015

By Sid Salter

Upon the convening of the 2016 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature, perhaps it’s educational to take a look at the demographics of that group.

There are 174 members of the Legislature — with 52 in the state Senate and 122 in the state House.

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The National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Center conducted a national study called “Who We Elect” that looked at legislative demographics including generation, gender, education, occupation, ethnicity and religion across the nation.

Gender demographics show that Mississippi lawmakers are 83 percent male and 17 percent female, while the state population is 51 percent female and 49 percent male. Ten states have female representation percentages equal to or lower than Mississippi’s.

In terms of generation, nationally 13 percent of legislators come from the silent generation born between 1928 — 1945, 55 percent from the baby boom born 1946 — 1964, 26 percent from Generation X born from 1965 — 1980 and 5 percent from Millennials born from 1981 to 1997. In Mississippi, 15 percent were silent generation, 53 percent were baby boomers, 30 percent were Gen X, and 2 percent were Millennials.

In the Mississippi Legislature, baby boomers hold 59 percent of the seats while only representing 29 percent of the overall state population.

Religion among legislators saw Mississippi rack up an 89 percent protestant Legislature compared with 38 percent nationally. Protestants represent 77 percent of the state’s overall population.

In race and ethnicity, whites hold 71 percent of Mississippi legislative seats while representing 58.8 percent of the state’s population. Blacks hold 28 percent of the state’s legislative seats, but represent 37.8 percent of the state’s population. Nationally, whites hold 81.7 percent of legislative seats while blacks hold 8.6 percent.

Occupation demographics indicate a Mississippi Legislature with 25 percent attorneys, 21 percent from business, 17 percent business owners, 8 percent retired, 7 percent professionals, 5 percent farmers and 5 percent whose occupation is listed as “legislator.” The remaining 14 percent is split between 12 percent “no data” or “other” and 1 percent “educator.”

Age demographics show an average age in the Mississippi House of 57.1 years and in the Mississippi Senate of 57 years. The national average age of legislators is 56 years. The national average age is 46.7 years.

Demographics measuring educational attainment are in the NCSL/Pew report. In the Mississippi Legislature, 3 percent have less than a bachelor’s degree, 25 percent have a bachelor’s degree, 33 percent possess an advanced degree and 39 percent of lawmakers had an educational attainment that was either unknown or undeclared.

The Legislature serves a populace in Mississippi in which 79 percent of the people have less than a bachelor’s degree, 13 percent have a bachelor’s degree, and 8 percent have advanced degrees.

So the old saw about the Legislature in Mississippi being controlled by lawyers and farmers — as was decidedly true in my childhood in the 1960s — is no longer true. Nor is it true that lawyers dominate the Legislature. In 2016, when Republicans now have rather iron-clad legislative control, it’s not surprising that the largest occupational group in the aggregate is from the business community.

In terms of legitimate gripes about representation, no single group has more right to complain about representation or the lack thereof than Mississippi’s females — who are significantly under-represented and frankly more so than are black Mississippians.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.