220 women were elected to Parliament on 12 December 2019 – the highest number ever. This Insight compares the number of women MPs elected in 2019 with earlier election results and looks at the history of female representation in the UK Parliament.
2019 General Election
The 2019 General Election returned the highest number and proportion of female MPs ever recorded: 220 (34%) of 650 MPs are women, up from 208 in 2017 (+12). This continues the trend of increasing female representation in Parliament.
57 (41%) of the 140 MPs elected for the first time in 2019 were women. Of these, 32% of new Conservative MPs were women; 77% of new Labour MPs were women and 13% of new SNP MPs were women. All newly-elected Liberal Democrat MPs were women. Seven of 15 (47%) of re-elected former MPs were also female.
How has the number of women in Parliament changed over time?
The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 allowed women aged 21 and over to stand for Parliament for the first time. Constance Markievicz became the first woman to be elected as an MP at the 1918 General Election but, along with 72 other Sinn Féin MPs, she did not take her seat in the Commons. Nancy Astor, elected in a 1919 by-election, became the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. Up to 1987 the number of women MPs elected never went over 30, even though there had been a female Prime Minister.
There were 19 female MPs elected in 1979, when the UK elected the first female Prime Minister, 3% of the total. The number of female MPs rose slowly over the next three parliaments to 60 in 1992. The proportion of seats held by women doubled in 1997, when 120 women were elected. This was the first-time women held more than 10% of seats (18% of all MPs).
That number fell back to 118 at the 2001 election but has risen at each subsequent general election. 208 female MPs were elected at the 2017 General Election (32% of all MPs). By November 2019, when the House dissolved for the 2019 General Election, there were 211 female MPs.
Which parties do the current women MPs belong to?
Of the current 220 women MPs, 87 are Conservative (24% of all Conservative MPs, up from 21% in 2017). 104 are Labour (51%, up from 45% in 2017), 16 are SNP (33%, down from 34% in 2017) and seven are Liberal Democrat (64%, up from 33% in 2017). There are also six female MPs amongst other party groups.
Including those elected in 2019, a total of 552 women have been elected to the House of Commons since 1918.
Social background of Members of Parliament 1979-2017, House of Commons Library.
Women in Parliament and Government, House of Commons Library.
This article was corrected on 04.03.20. It previously said a total of 546 women had been elected to the House of Commons since 1918.
About the author: Grahame Allen is a researcher at the House of Commons Library specialising in social and general statistics.