Women get into politics at an older age than men
On average, women enter elected office at an older age than men. For the 116th Congress, the overall average age for members in 47, however the average age for the 127 women in the current congress is 64. Despite the overall higher average age of women, the 40 freshman women of the 116th Congress have an average age of 46. Looking at the 113th Congress, the average age for a member to take their oath of office was 46.7 years old for men but 50.2 years old for women.
This age imbalance is consistent on the state level as well. In 2001, the breakdown of state legislators under the age of 50 was 39 percent for men but only 24 percent for women. While 28 percent of male state senators and 30 percent of male state representatives entered office when they were 40 years old or younger, the same was true of only 11 percent of female state senators and 14 percent of female state representatives.
“I want women to be here in greater numbers at an earlier age so that their seniority [can] start to count much sooner.”
-Nancy Pelosi, first woman speaker of the House of Representatives
This age divide has been correlated with having young children, as found in research from Brown University. A study from Yale Law School summarized the issue as follows:
One reason attributed to female candidates’ delayed entrance compared to male candidates is that women usually wait until their children are grown before they run for office. Women seem to delay their political careers because of family responsibilities, and are far less likely to have young children in office.
The age gap between men and women in office means that young women, especially those with young children, are less represented in our government than young men. Additionally, for the women in office themselves, starting their political careers later means that they will have less time in office to make meaningful change.
In order to lead effectively, women must have equal access to leadership positions. A delayed start can hurt their ability to climb the leadership ladder and become successful policy-makers.
Structural reforms that both encourage young women to run for office and also support them while in office are crucial to fixing this imbalance.