A Record Number of Women will Serve in State Legislatures in 2021

*Post has been updated on February 17, 2021 to incorporate results and legislative changes that occurred through the final date of state legislatures being sworn in (January 19, 2021). 

As the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) has reported, a record number of women will serve in state legislatures in 2021. As a result of the 2020 elections, 2,277 women state legislators will serve in 2021. Women will hold 30.8% of state legislative offices nationwide. This exceeds the current level (and record) of women state legislators at 2,161 (29.3%). New records for women’s state legislative representation will be achieved across parties and chambers.

Still, in 2021, women will represent 50% or more of state legislators in just one state: Nevada. Women will hold at least 50% of seats in three state senates (Nevada, Rhode Island, and Arizona) and four state houses (Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oregon). Prior to this, women have made up 50% or more of seats in a state legislative body just three times in history: the New Hampshire Senate from 2009-2010, the Nevada House from 2019 to the present, and the Colorado House in 2019. In other states and chambers, women will continue to fall short of parity with their male counterparts.

The gains for women in state legislatures from 2020 to 2021 (+116) will not match the net increase in women state legislators that resulted from the 2018 election; from October 2018 to January 2019, the number of women state legislators increased by 237 nationwide.

There are also significant partisan differences in the gains for women state legislators as a result of elections 2018 and 2020. From October 2018 to January 2019, the number of Democratic women state legislators increased by nearly 300 (+25%), while the number of Republican women state legislators dropped by nearly 50 (-7%). From 2020 to 2021, the number of both Democratic and Republican women state legislators will rise, but the gains are greater for Republicans than Democrats. This mirrors the trends that we have observed at the congressional level this year, particularly in the U.S. House; Republican women made up for losses resulting from election 2018 and are responsible for a greater proportion of gains than Democratic women as we enter next year’s legislative sessions.

Also in line with federal trends, Republican women’s gains as a result of election 2020 will not close the partisan gap in women’s state legislative representation. Based on final results, Republican women will be about one-third of all women state legislators, including about one-third of state senators and one-third of state representatives at the start of 2021. On Election Day 2020, Republican women were 31.1% of women state legislators, 32.6% of women state senators, and 30.7% of state representatives.

Looking beyond nationwide counts, women’s state legislative gains vary by state and legislative chamber. Based on final results, 31 states will see an increase in women state legislators, 11 states will see a decrease, and 8 states will have the same number of women state legislators as they did on Election Day 2020. 

  • 25 states will see an increase in Democratic women state legislators, 15 states will see a decrease, and 9 states will have the same number of Democratic women state legislators as they did on Election Day 2020. 
  • 27 states will see an increase in Republican women state legislators, 10 states will see a decrease, and 12 states will have the same number of Republican women state legislators as they did on Election Day 2020. 

Based on final results, 20 states will see an increase in women state senators, 9 states will see a decrease, and 21 states will have the same number of women state senators as they did on Election Day 2020. 

  • 17 states will see an increase in Democratic women state senators, 6 states will see a decrease, and 26 states will have the same number of Democratic women state senators as they did on Election Day 2020. 
  • 13 states will see an increase in Republican women state senators, 8 states will see a decrease, and 28 states will have the same number of Republican women state senators as they did on Election Day 2020. 

Based on final results, 29 states will see an increase in women state representatives, 12 states will see a decrease, and 9 states will have the same number of women state representatives as they did on Election Day 2020. 

  • 20 states will see an increase in Democratic women state representatives, 13 states will see a decrease, and 16 states will have the same number of Democratic women state representatives as they did on Election Day 2020. 
  •  21 states will see an increase in Republican women state representatives, 12 states will see a decrease, and 16 states will have the same number of Republican women state representatives as they did on Election Day 2020. 

What do the numbers look like in your state? Use the charts below to see the change in women’s state legislative representation (overall and by party) between Election Day 2020 and January 2021. These data will be updated as the remaining contests are called.

 

Kelly Dittmar is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers–Camden and Director of Research and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.  She is the co-author of A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Representation Matters (Oxford University Press, 2018) (with Kira Sanbonmatsu and Susan J. Carroll) and author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Temple University Press, 2015). 

Chelsea Hill is the data services manager at the Center for American Women and Politics. She manages research, collection and organization of current and historical information about women's political participation. She responds to inquiries from the media, scholars, activists, officeholders and the general public. Each semester, Hill oversees a team of interns and student workers whose work is critical to the Center’s ability to provide accurate and up-to-date information.