Data Tracker

Legislature doesn’t look like California, but in some ways it’s closer than before

California Legislature is getting more diverse, but there are fewer women

How has the California Legislature changed since term limits were introduced in 1990?
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How has the California Legislature changed since term limits were introduced in 1990?
chart of legislature 

The California lawmakers who returned to the Capitol this week as a group are younger and much more reflective of California’s diverse racial and ethnic makeup than their counterparts about two decades ago.

In all of those categories, though, the state’s residents continue to look a lot different than the 120 people who, for the next two years, will be crafting a state budget, voting on hundred of bills, and taking other actions affecting their constituents’ lives.

The California Assembly continues to be the younger house. Its members are, on average, 48.6 years old. The average age of state senators is 55.6 years. That compares to a statewide median age of a little younger than 36.

That gap between legislative houses, however, is down significantly since shortly after voters approved term limits in 1990. At the start of the 1993-94 session, some octogenarian members pushed the state Senate’s average age to nearly 60, a dozen years older than the state Assembly’s average.

Both houses have several members at opposite generational poles.

48.6 Average age of members of the 2016-17 California Assembly

Under-30 Assembly members Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, anchor the Legislature’s millennial ranks, while 14 members of the Legislature are eligible for Medicare and well into their golden years.

Chart of poll results 

November’s election, meanwhile, reduced the number of women in the Legislature. The number of women in the 80-member Assembly dropped from 19 to 17, and from 12 to nine in the 40-member Senate. By comparison, slightly more than one-half of California’s population is women, according to the latest census data.

The most substantial shift in the Legislature’s makeup is in its racial and ethnic composition.

Non-Hispanic whites made up 81 percent of the Assembly and 90 percent of the state Senate in 1993-94, significantly higher than their 57 percent share of the population at the time of the 1990 census. Latinos, about a quarter of the state’s population then, were less than 8 percent of the Legislature.

The current Legislature has many more Latino members, but still not enough to match their 38 percent share of the state’s population last year.

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