The Tennessee General Assembly has fewer women among its members than the average for other state legislatures, but more business owners and Christians, according to a compilation of data by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The review, based on 2015 legislative sessions, reported 18 percent of Tennessee’s lawmakers are women versus a national average of 24 percent, tied with Pennsylvania.
The Tennessee percentage will drop a bit for 2016 since one woman, state Rep. Leigh Wilburn, R-Somerville, resigned effective Dec. 31 and a man, Jamison Jenkins, was named by the Fayette County Commission to replace her on an interim basis for this session.
The state’s status comes despite the efforts of House Speaker Beth Harwell, one of four women serving nationwide in the top position of a state legislative body, who in 2013 led a Republican State Leadership Committee national endeavor called “Right Women, Right Now” with the goal of getting more women to run as Republican candidates.
Louisiana at 12 percent had the lowest percentage of women legislators. Colorado and Vermont were tied for the highest at 41 percent.
Other comparison numbers:
On occupation of legislators, the review says 16 percent of Tennessee’s legislators are “business owners” and another 24 percent are otherwise engaged in business as a profession, for a combined total of 40 percent. Nationally, the average was 13 percent business owners and 16 percent “business other,” or a 29 percent total. Tennessee was ahead of the average for other states on those listing themselves as retired — 10 percent versus 8 percent. The state matched the national average on legislators who are lawyers — 14 percent — and engaged in agriculture for a living, 5 percent. Tennessee had more lawmakers who could not be designated by profession, 17 percent, than most states.
On religion, the report says 92 percent of Tennessee legislators are Protestant and 4 percent are Catholic, compared to the national average of 38 percent Protestant and 16 percent Catholic. The state and national average in the “other Christian” category is 2 percent for both. Only 2 percent of Tennessee legislators were listed as “unspecified” in religion while nationally, 42 percent were put into that category. Tennessee is listed as having no “non-Christian” legislators; nationally, 2 percent are so labeled.
In the “ethnicity” category, 85 percent of Tennessee legislators were listed as white, 13 percent as black, 2 percent as multiracial. Statewide, the review says Tennessee’s population as a whole is 77.6 percent white and 16.9 percent black. Nationally, 81.7 percent of state legislators are white, 18.1 percent black and 2.9 percent multiracial.
In education, the review listed 39 percent of Tennessee legislators as holding a bachelor’s degree from a college or university and 38 percent as holding an advanced degree. Only 3 percent were listed as holding no college degree, but the educational attainment of 20 percent could not be determined. Those figures were roughly in line with national averages — 33 percent with a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent with an advanced degree and 23 percent whose educational attainment could not be determined by the researchers.
The average age of a Tennessee legislator was reported as 56.4 years — 55.7 years in the House and 58.5 in the Senate — in line with the national average of 56 years. The report also includes a “generational” label for legislators. In Tennessee, 66 percent were categorized as “baby boomers” versus a national average of 55 percent.
Note: Links to state-by-state stuff HERE.