Pew Research Center
study / power

U.S. Population Is Growing, But the House of Representatives Is Same Size as in Taft Era

How representative is the U.S. House of Representatives?
The U.S. House of Representatives has one voting member for every 747,000 or so Americans. That’s by far the highest population-to-representative ratio among a peer group of industrialized democracies, and the highest it’s been in U.S. history. And with the size of the House capped by law and the country’s population continually growing, the representation ratio likely will only get bigger.

In the century-plus since the number of House seats first reached its current total of 435 (excluding nonvoting delegates), the representation ratio has more than tripled – from one representative for every 209,447 people in 1910 to one for every 747,184 as of last year.

That ratio, mind you, is for the nation as a whole. The ratios for individual states vary considerably, mainly because of the House’s fixed size and the Constitution’s requirement that each state, no matter its population, have at least one representative. Currently, Montana’s 1,050,493 people have just one House member; Rhode Island has slightly more people (1,059,639), but that’s enough to give it two representatives – one for every 529,820 Rhode Islanders.

The U.S. findings in this post are based on Pew Research Center analyses of House membership changes since 1789 and historical population data (actual when available, estimated when not). They exclude territories, the District of Columbia and other U.S. possessions that don’t have voting representation in the House. The analysis was complicated somewhat by the fact that new states often were admitted after a decennial census but before the apportionment law based on that census took effect (usually about three years afterward). In such cases, the new states were analyzed as if they had been states at the time of the census.

The first Congress (1789-91) had 65 House members, the number provided for in the Constitution until the first census could be held. Based on an estimated population for the 13 states of 3.7 million, there was one representative for every 57,169 people. (At the time, Kentucky was part of Virginia, Maine was part of Massachusetts, and Tennessee was part of North Carolina. Vermont governed itself as an independent republic, despite territorial claims by New York.)
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