I’d Have Been Wrong

by Dave Schuler on February 24, 2012

If you had asked me whether I thought that the percentage of lawyers elected to the Congress over the last 70 years had increased, I would have said “Yes”. As this study from the Congressional Research Service notes, I would have been wrong. In 1945 a little more than 40% of representatives and around 45% of senators were lawyers; by 2010 those numbers had fallen to around 20% and 38%, respectively.

The study analyzes the composition of the Congress by age, race, gender, tenure of service, occupation, religion, education, and other demographic factors and how that composition has changed over time.

A few true generalizations from the study:

  • There are more women than there used to be.
  • The proportion of women in the Congress is far smaller than the proportion of women in the country, generally.
  • There are significantly fewer farmers in the Congress than there used to be.
  • The proportion of those serving in Congress who served in the military is a lot smaller than that proportion in the country, generally.
  • Average length of tenure in office has increased over time.
  • Members of Congress are more likely to be affiliated with an organized religion than Americans, generally.
  • Catholics are represented roughly in proportion to their numbers in the population, generally (slightly over-represented in the Senate).
  • The proportion of those professing the Jewish faith in Congress is significantly greater than in the country, generally.
  • The proportion of those who characterize their race as “white” in the Congress is greater than in the country, generally.
  • The proportion of those who characterize their race as “black” in the Congress is slightly less than in the country, generally.
  • The proportion of those with college educations in the House has grown from more than 50% in 1945 to more than 90% today.
  • The proportion of those with college educations in the Senate has grown from more than 70% in 1945 to nearly 100% today.
  • The proportion of those with college educations in the U. S. has grown from less than 5% in 1945 to more than 30% today (or, members or Congress are not as much better educated compared to the rest of country as they used to be).

Interesting stuff.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw February 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

The religious info isn’t as specific as some of the information Pew has published. There is significant variation in types of Protestants. Baptists, Pentecostals and Nondenominational Protestants are significantly under-represented in Congress, while Presbyterians, Episcopalians and to a lesser extent Methodists are over-represented. (Baptists break further down into about half of them in Congress are Southern Baptist, a third are African-American)

This data suggests religious fundamentalists are likely to be severely under-represented in Congress, and evangelicals might be as well.

sam February 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

“This data suggests religious fundamentalists are likely to be severely under-represented in Congress, and evangelicals might be as well.”

Truly, God loves America.

PD Shaw February 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Or perhaps, sam, like the mighty deity whose name is too terrible to put to writing, it is better to be feared than loved?

sam February 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Well, I was thinking about my sainted grandmother, whom I loved dearly. But a Congress full of my grandmothers, eh, not something to be wished for, believe me.

Dave Schuler February 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

This data suggests religious fundamentalists are likely to be severely under-represented in Congress, and evangelicals might be as well.

I think there might be complicated issues of identity, class, and socio-economic status involved. Let me give an example.

Historically, there used to be a tendency for blacks to change denominations when they ascended the income ladder. Working class blacks were overwhelmingly Baptist or AME while middle class or upper middle class blacks were frequently Episcopalian, Catholic, or Lutheran. Note that I’m only speaking of a tendency rather than some law of nature.

There might be something similar going on among white evangelicals, i.e. a tendency to change to some mainline denomination or Catholicism as one rose in income (and we do have, as we have always done, a plutocracy).

Parenthetically, I don’t think that’s as true as it used to be. Take the Obamas, for example. 50 years ago a couple of black lawyers with Ivy educations (there were such people) would probably have converted to Episcopalianism.

Dave Schuler February 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm

sam, your grandmothers must have been different from mine (neither of whom I knew). I doubt that anyone would have referred to either of my grandmothers as “sainted”. Fun, maybe. Wacky, maybe.

The word I’ve most heard associated with my paternal grandmother was “weird”. She affected a sort of Theda Bara look and took up a lot of eccentric fads. Bernard McFadden. Ancient Egyptian religion. Maybe spiritualism.

The word I’ve most heard associated with my maternal grandmother was “dramatic”. By most accounts she was much given to emotional outbursts of various kinds. Sleep-walked. Everybody said she was a lot of fun (she thought my dad was a stiff which he probably was).

sam February 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I believe I’ve told the story here of my mother calling my grandmother a Holy Roller and my grandmother yelling, “Pentacostal, Pentacostal!!” As for ‘sainted’, apart from her inability to free herself from her (then) Southern attitudes on race and religion (she was born in 1884), she was a sweet, kind, gentle person. How those vicious attitudes could co-exist with that sweetness and gentleness is an enduring mystery to me.

sam February 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm

You know, to this day, I cannot say the word ‘Jew’ in referring to Jewish person, although it’s perfectly appropriate. In my house, the word ‘Jew’ was an epithet, spit out and always used in sentences disparaging Jews. I never got over it.

Dave Schuler February 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm

As you may have noticed, I’m cautious about it (although it was never an epithet in our home).

My grandmothers were born in the 1890s. My paternal grandfather was born in 1884. My maternal grandfather was born in 1875.

PD Shaw February 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I wouldn’t disagree that protestants change religious affiliation in accordance with other socio-economic changes, but I wouldn’t assume that these are not a result of inward value changes, as opposed to simply socialization.

For me, to be a fundamentalist Christian means to place special importance in the fact that a man was swallowed by a large fish. Not necessarily because Jonah is at the heart of Christian theology, but because compromises on this point will lead to further transgressions. I speculate on whether there is a framework for a successful politician or one who would even desire to be one.

I notice 31% of Alabama is Southern Baptist, but its two U.S. senators are Methodist and Presbyterian. These are both denominations more associated with opposition to fundamentalism, with significant evangelical membership. Overall, what I see in Congressional religious membership, including Catholics, Mormons and Jews, are higher representations of denominations that place more emphasis on social works, a theological point underlying the more materialist explanation that religion and income and political office and income have correlations.

Drew February 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm

None of those stats really surprised me. There is one that is missing, though: Sheila Jackson Lee is one of the stupidest people on earth.

There, it’s all set now.

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