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Women's Share of Council Seats in Big Cities Has Grown Dramatically

With their numbers up more than 50 percent since 2016, women have achieved near-parity on councils in 15 major cities. Salaries on those councils have climbed an average of 27 percent.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker
Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle L. Parker delivers her first budget address in City Council in March. (Heather Khalifa/TNS)
The makeup of city councils nationwide tends to change every four years because of resignations, the election of new members and term limits, among other reasons. A review of 15 large-city councils by The Pew Charitable Trusts highlights some major changes in 2024, particularly in the share of seats held by women.

The analysis provides a snapshot of the city councils in Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; San Antonio; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. Although these cities may not all be on the same election cycle, they provide a view of city councils in large cities throughout the country.

One of the most significant changes since 2016, when Pew last conducted a similar analysis, is the increased share of women serving on city councils. All but two of the comparison cities — San Diego and Washington — boosted the number of women on their legislative bodies during this period. And as of 2024, six cities have majority female representation; none did in 2016.

Phoenix has the highest percentage of female representation at 78 percent, while Baltimore has the lowest at 27 percent. There were no publicly identified nonbinary members serving on these councils.

Among the 15 city councils examined, the overall share of female representation on the local legislatures increased from 31 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2024.

Comparing Councilmember Salaries

Pew also examined the average compensation of city councilmembers, including base salary and extra pay for leadership or committee assignments. Overall, average council salaries have increased by 27 percent since 2016.

Los Angeles has the highest average councilmember salary at $231,802 and San Antonio the lowest at $47,177. However, this may not capture total annual compensation from all sources because some cities, including Philadelphia, permit outside employment for their councilmembers.

Among the cities surveyed, San Diego and San Jose had the largest increases in the eight years since the previous analysis. San Diego’s average salary increased 130 percent, from $75,400 in 2016 to $174,400 this year. San Jose’s average salary increased 74 percent, from $84,400 to $147,000. The cities with the lowest average salaries (San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix) have had no or only marginal increases since 2016.

Some cities, such as San Antonio, require a charter change and voter approval to increase the salaries of elected officials. In others, such as Philadelphia, councilmembers receive cost-of-living increases like any other exempt city employee.

A Look at Average Tenures

Among all of the cities examined, the average tenure is 4.7 years, down from 6.2 years in 2016.

The average tenure length in each city is heavily influenced by a few members with very long tenures, including Philadelphia Councilmember Brian O’Neill, who has served more than 40 years, and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who has served for 26 years.

Philadelphia’s City Council experienced significant turnover in 2024; average tenure there has declined from 15.5 years in 2011 (then the longest among the comparison cities) to 6.9 in 2024. More than half of current councilmembers have served less than a full term.

Overall, councilmembers have longer tenures in cities with no term limits, and not surprisingly, that’s the case in all of the five cities with the longest average tenures. By contrast, Boston, which has term limits, has experienced extraordinary turnover in recent years. The council there had the lowest average tenure among the comparison cities at 1.9 years, down from 7.7 years in 2011. Pew’s next analysis could show more tenure changes: In 2022, Baltimore voters approved a charter change that introduced term limits for city councilmembers. The rule goes into effect for new members elected in 2024.

In conclusion, the 15 cities have nearly equal representation by male and female legislators for the first time in Pew’s recurring review of select city legislatures, albeit with significant variations among the cities. In addition, salaries increased by an average of 27 percent since 2016 while average tenure decreased by a full year. The changes recorded this year highlight a period of turnover and new leadership across many large U.S. cities.

Katie Martin is a director and Alix Sullivan is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative. You can read the original version of their analysis here.
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