Average Years of Service for Members of the Senate and House of Representatives, First-110th Congresses

Average Years of Service for Members of the
Senate and House of Representatives,
First - 110 Congresses
Updated May 20, 2008
Mildred Amer
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division

Average Years of Service for Members of the Senate
and House of Representatives,
First - 110th Congresses
The average tenure of Members of the Senate and House of Representatives at
the beginning of each Congress has varied substantially since 1789. The purpose of
this report is to provide a Congress-by-Congress summary of the average years of
service for Senators and Representatives for the First through the 110th Congresses.
The information for each Congress reflects only the Members entitled to be seated
at the beginning of that Congress.
The report contains a brief summary of some of the explanations by political
scientists and others for the various changes in the average years of service. The
information should be read with the understanding that the length of congressional
careers has also depended on the number of congressional retirements as well as the
success rates for those incumbents who have sought reelection. For information on
the number of freshmen elected to Congress, refer to CRS Report RS20723,
Freshmen in the House of Representatives and Senate by Political Party: 1913-2007,
by Mildred Amer.
The average years of service for Members of the 110th Congress, as of January
3, 2007, when the Congress convened was 10.0 years for the House and 12.82 years
for the Senate. This is a record for the Senate. House Members who took their seats
at the beginning of the 102nd Congress (1991-1993) represent the high point of
Representatives’ average tenure (10.4 years).
This report will be updated after the commencement of the 111th Congress.

In troduction ..................................................1
Analysis of Data...............................................2
House of Representatives....................................2
Senate ...................................................3
List of Figures
Figure 1. Average Years of Service for Senators and Representatives,stth
by Chamber and Congress,1 - 110 Congresses.....................4
List of Tables
Table 1. Average Years of Service for Members of the Senate
and House of Representatives, First - 110th Congresses................5

Average Years of Service for Members of
the Senate and House of Representatives,
First - 110 Congresses
During the early history of Congress, turnover in membership was frequent, and
resignations were commonplace. Although the Constitution provides that U.S.th
Senators serve for a term of six years, it was not until the 50 Congress (1887-1889)
that the average tenure of Senators reached six years. While the average service of
Members of the House began to exceed their two-year term by the Fourth Congress
(1795-1797), it did not rise above four years until the 57th Congress (1901-1903).
According to political scientist Randall Ripley, “In the pre-modern Congress,
Members came and went rapidly. There were few senior members. Life in
Washington was not pleasant; Congress did not seem very important, and the
unstable party situation often made re-election difficult to achieve.”1
Political scientist H. Douglas Price wrote that “the distinguished Senators of thest

1 Congress set the early career pattern for that chamber: They fled the Capitol …

almost as fast as humanly possible…. Career data on the early Senate is a morass of
resignations, short-term appointees, elective replacements…. There are no notable
careers in terms of service.”2 According to Price, the lack of incentives for Members
to retain their seats explains the high turnover in those early years of the House.
Power was fluid in the House. The Speaker controlled committee appointments;3
there was frequent change in party control, and no seniority influence. Price also
wrote that the Congress elected in 1900 was the first in American history in which4
new Members accounted for less than 30% of the membership.
After the 1880s, circumstances changed and the rise of careerism in Congress
began in the period from 1890-1910.5 The strengthening of the party system, the

1 Randall B. Ripley, Congress: Process and Policy, 4th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton and
Company, 1988), p. 50.
2 H. Douglas Price, “Congress and the Evolution of Legislative ‘Professionalism,’” in
Norman Ornstein, ed., Congress in Change (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1995), p. 5.
3 Ibid., p. 16.
4 Ibid.
5 David Brady, Kara Buckley, and Douglas Rivers (Stanford University), “The Roots of
Careerism in the House of Representatives,”Legislative Studies Quarterly, meeting of the
American Political Science Association, September 1994, p. 2.vol. 24, November 1999, p.

emergence of one-party states and districts following the Civil War, and institutional
changes in Congress made re-election easier. The emergence of national problems
raised a legislative career to a new level of importance; and the demonstration by
Congress, after Lincoln’s death, that it intended to play a more assertive role in
government contributed to many Members’ desire to remain in Congress.6
Subsequently, legislative careers became common, and the concept of the “citizen
legislator” became a thing of the past.7
Some political scientists and others have attributed the demise of the “citizen
legislator” and the stabilization of congressional membership to (1) the importance
of the seniority system; (2) increased opportunities for junior Members; (3) the ease
of traveling between Washington, DC, and home states and districts; (4) senior
Members’ involvement and success in promoting legislative agendas; and (5) the
advantages of incumbency that allow Members to generate publicity, serve
constituents, and receive support in organizing their offices and forming agendas that
help them be effective legislators.8
In recent years, the fluctuations in congressional service averages cannot be
attributed to any single factor. Self-imposed term limits, retirements, election
defeats, and redistricting have all been factors.9
Analysis of Data
Table 1 shows, by chamber and by Congress, the average years of service at the
beginning of each Congress. The freshmen Members of each house are counted as
having no service (zero years). Changes in membership during a Congress are not
taken into account.
House of Representatives. Between the Second and 12th Congresses
(1791-1813), the average years of service for a Member of the House ranged from a
low of 1.1 years to a high of 3.7 years. From the 13th Congress to the 47th Congressrd
(1813-1883), the average service fluctuated from a low of 1.4 years in the 33
Congress (1853-1855) to a high of 3.4 years in the 20th Congress (1827-1829). From

5 (...continued)


6 Ripley, Congress: Process and Policy, p. 51; and Price, “Congress and the Evolution of
Legislative ‘Professionalism,’” p. 9.
7 Howard Baker, “‘Citizen Legislators’ Would Be Better,” Washington Post, July 8, 1983,
p. 21; and Saul Pett, “Baker Seeks to Change Face of Congress,” Los Angeles Times, Aug.

21, 1983, pp. 2, 15.

8 Ibid., and John R. Hibbing, “The Modern Congressional Career,” The American Political
Science Review, vol. 85, June 1991, p. 425.
9 For additional studies on congressional service, see Nelson Polsby, “The
Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives,” The American Political Science
Review, vol. 41, March 1968; and Robert G. Brookshire and Dean F. Duncan,
“Congressional Career Patterns and Party Systems,” Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. VIII,
February 1983, pp. 65-78.

the 48th through the 69th Congresses (1883-1927), the average was between 2.5 years
and 5.8 years. In the 70th through the 72nd Congresses (1927-1933) during the Great
Depression, the average years of service rose to an all-time high, to that point, of
around seven years of service.
One of the highest levels of turnover in the 20th century occurred in the Franklin
D. Roosevelt landslide election of 1932, and in succeeding congressional election
cycles as Republicans began to regain seats lost in 1932. In the 73rd through the 75th
Congresses (1933-1939), the average length of House service fell to about five years
before trending upward (with some fluctuations) over the next 65 years.
From the 84th through the 101st Congresses (1955-1991), service ranged from
then record highs of eight to more than nine years, with the exception of the 96th
through the 98th Congresses (1979-1985), when service was somewhat more than
seven years. In the 102nd Congress (1991-1993), the average House service reached
an all-time high of 10.4 years. The average length of service then fluctuated between
eight and nine years from the 103rd to the 109th Congresses (1993-2005), except for
the 104th Congress (1995-1997), when the change in party control saw the average
service decline to 7.5 years. In the 110th Congress, because of numerous long-serving
Members, the average years of service is back at 10 years for the first time in 16
Senate. Between the Second and 21st Congresses (1791-1831), the average
years of Senate service ranged from a low of 1.4 years (Second Congress) to a highstndth
of 4.9 years (21 Congress). From the 22 Congress though the 48 Congress (1831-

1885), the years of Senate service averaged over three and under five. With thendrd

exception of the 62 and 63 Congresses (1911-1915), when the average length of
Senate service was about five years, the years of service from the 49th through theth
75 Congresses (1885-1939) averaged from around six to just under eight, an
indication that many Senators were beginning to serve more than one term. Note thatrd
the direct election of Senators began with the elections to the 63 Congress (1913-


From the 76th through the 79th Congresses (1939-1947), Senate service was at
a then all-time high of eight years and has never fallen to five years again. With the
change in party control at the beginning of the 80th Congress (1947-1949), however,stth
it did fall to 6.6 years, before trending upward from the 81 through the 94
Congresses (1949-1977). Average Senate service passed the 10-year mark in the 89thth
Congress (1965-1967), where it remained through the 94 Congress (1975-1977).
From the 95th through the 100th Congresses (1977-1989), Senate service
fluctuated between a high of 9.8 years in the 95th Congress (1977-1979) and a low ofth
7.5 years in the 97 Congress (1981-1983), then remained between 10 and 11.8 years
from the 101st through the 108th Congresses (1989-2005). Average Senate servicethth
reached record highs in the 109 and 110 Congresses (2005-2009) with 12.3 years
and 12.8 years of service, respectively. As with the House, there are a number of
long-serving Senators, including one whose Senate service will reach 50 years on
January 3, 2009, and another whose service will reach 46 years in November 2008.

Figure 1. Average Years of Service for Senators and Representatives,
by Chamber and Congress,1st - 110th Congresses

s.or Senate
H ous e
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110
Congre ss

Table 1. Average Years of Service for Members of the Senate
and House of Representatives, First - 110th Congresses
Congress and YearsHouseSenate
1st, 1789-17910.00.0
2nd, 1791-17931.11.4
3rd, 1793-17951.3 2.1
4th, 1795-17972.12.6
5th, 1797-17992.12.7
6th, 1799-18012.43.1
7th, 1801-18032.52.9
8th, 1803-18052.22.9
9th, 1805-18072.72.6
10th, 1807-18093.23.6
11th, 1809-18113.63.7
12th, 1811-18133.73.8
13th, 1813-18152.84.2
14th, 1815-18173.12.8
15th, 1817-18191.82.4
16th, 1819-18212.12.7
17th, 1821-18232.22.9
18th, 1823-18252.54.3
19th, 1825-18273.04.3
20th, 1827-18293.44.3
21st, 1829-18313.14.9
22nd, 1831-18333.14.5
23rd, 1833-18352.63.8
24th, 1835-18372.53.8
25th, 1837-18392.33.9
26th, 1839-18412.44.7
27th, 1841-18432.64.5

28th, 1843-18451.54.5

Congress and YearsHouseSenate
29th, 1845-18471.84.1
30th, 1847-18492.04.1
31st, 1849-18511.94.1
32nd, 1851-18531.63.8
33rd, 1853-18551.43.5
34th, 1855-18571.64.0
35th, 1857-18592.24.5
36th, 1859-18612.04.9
37th, 1861-18631.74.8
38th, 1863-18651.53.8
39th, 1865-18672.04.3
40th, 1867-18692.23.7
41st, 1869-18712.13.5
42nd, 1871-18732.24.1
43rd, 1873-18752.14.3
44th, 1875-18771.93.9
45th, 1877-18792.24.0
46th, 1879-18812.44.3
47th, 1881-1883 3.24.5
48th, 1883-18852.54.8
49th, 1885-18872.95.9
50th, 1887-1889 3.16.2
51st, 1889-18913.56.6
52nd, 1891-18932.97.3
53rd, 1893-18953.27.7
54th, 1895-18972.67.3
55th, 1897-18993.27.3
56th, 1899-19013.56.9
57th, 1901-19034.17.6

58th, 1903-19054.17.9

Congress and YearsHouseSenate
59th, 1905-19074.97.9
60th, 1907-19095.17.7
61st, 1909-19115.67.0
62nd, 1911-19135.15.5
63rd, 1913-19154.25.1
64th, 1915-19174.86.2
65th, 1917-19195.56.5
66th, 1919-19215.46.7
67th, 1921-19235.37.1
68th, 1923-19255.16.7
69th, 1925-19275.86.5
70th, 1927-19296.97.2
71st, 1929-19317.47.7
72nd, 1931-19337.37.7
73rd, 1933-19355.67.2
74th, 1935-19375.47.6
75th, 1937-19395.87.7
76th, 1939-19416.08.5
77th, 1941-19436.68.1
78th, 1943-19456.68.2
79th, 1945-19477.18.1
80th, 1947-19497.06.6
81st, 1949-19516.97.1
82nd, 1951-19537.67.0
83rd, 1953-19557.47.1
84th, 1955-19578.37.7
85th, 1957-19599.28.6
86th, 1959-19618.78.2
87th, 1961-19639.38.7

88th, 1963-19659.28.8

Congress and YearsHouseSenate
89th, 1965-19678.510.1
90th, 1967-19698.810.7
91st, 1969-19719.410.2
92nd, 1971-19739.710.9
93rd, 1973-19759.210.1
94th, 1975-19778.610.6
95th, 1977-19798.09.8
96th, 1979-19817.88.6
97th, 1981-19837.47.5
98th, 1983-19857.58.8
99th, 1985-19878.49.4
100th, 1987-19899.19.7
101st, 1989-1991 9.710.0
102nd, 1991-199310.411.2
103rd, 1993-19958.411.5
104th, 1995-19977.510.1
105th, 1997-19998.010.3
106th, 1999-20018.010.9
107th, 2001-20039.011.0
108th, 2003-20059.011.8
109th, 2005-20079.312.3
110th, 2007-200910.012.82
Sources: From the First through the 101st Congresses (1789-1991), the source was the Inter-
University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,ndth
MI. For the 102 through the110 Congresses (1991-2007), the years of service were calculated by