Representatives of society

Background and characteristics of MPs

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The social make-up of those elected to the House of Commons has changed over the last 100 years.

In terms of gender, ethnicity and occupation, MPs have become more diverse. But they have become less varied in terms of their educational background, and possibly the extent to which they represent the changing world outside Westminster.

The first female was elected in 1918. However, women were less than 10% of all MPs until 1997, when the election of 120 women brought the proportion in the Commons to 18%, double the 9% pre-election tally. After a slight dip in 2001, the number of women MPs has continued to grow; 143 women MPs were elected in the 2010 General Election, 22% of the total.

Ethnically, the House of Commons has become more diverse. Until 25 years ago, MPs had largely been white, although a small number of MPs who would probably now be classed as black and minority ethnic were elected before 1900. The first contemporary black and minority ethnic MPs were elected in 1987 and the number has grown since then. Following the 2010 General Election there were 27 minority ethnic MPs, 11 Conservative and 16 Labour.

Over 75% of current MPs are graduates; in the period 1918 to 1945, around 40% were. There have been increases across all parties, but particularly for Labour MPs. Before 1945, less than 20% of Labour MPs were graduates. This rose to 32% in 1945, and steadily after that to stand at 72% by 2010.

To an extent, the occupational composition of the House of Commons changes with the electoral fortunes of the parties. Former teachers and manual workers have been more likely to be Labour MPs than those with a business or legal background, who are more likely to be Conservative.

The number of manual workers among MPs is lower now than in the immediate post-war years when, typically, one-third of Labour MPs were in this group; today, it is less than one in 10. In 1945 there were 45 Labour MP ex-miners, in 2010 there were six. Fewer MPs now have a legal background compared with 50 and 100 years ago.

As the numbers of MPs with manual and legal backgrounds has fallen, so the number with a political background has increased. In 2010, 14% of MPs from the three main parties had previously been politicians or political organisers, compared to around 3% up to 1979.

Careers, politicians
MPs by selected occupations and party 1951 to 2010

MPs by occupation and party 1951 to 2010

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