How Many Members Are In the House of Representatives?

Why There Are 435 Members of the House of Representatives

The 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives take the oath of office.
Members of the 115th Congress take the oath of office on the floor of the House of Representaives on Jan. 3, 2017. Win McNamee/Getty Images Staff

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Federal law determines how many members are in the House of Representatives. The law was passed on Aug. 8, 1911. That measure raised the number of representatives to 435 from 391 because of population growth in the United States. 

The first House of Representatives in 1789 had only 65 members. The number of seats in the House was expanded to 105 members after the 1790 Census, and then to 142 members after the 1800 head count.

The law that set the current number of seats at 435 took effect in 1913. But it isn't the reason the number of representatives has been stuck there.

Why There Are 435 Members of the House

There's really nothing special about that number. Congress regularly increased the number of seats in the House based on the nation's population growth from 1790 to 1913, and 435 is the most recent count. The number of seats in the House has not been increased in more than a century, though, even though every 10 years the census shows the population of the United States growing.

Why the Number of House Members Hasn't Changed Since 1913

There are still 435 members of the House of Representatives a century later because of the the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which set that number in stone.

The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 was the result of a battle between rural and urban areas of the United States following the 1920 Census.

The formula for distributing seats in the House based on population favored "urbanized states" and penalized smaller rural states at the time, and Congress could not agree on a reapportionment plan.

"After the 1910 census, when the House grew from 391 members to 433 (two more were added later when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the growth stopped.

That’s because the 1920 census indicated that the majority of Americans were concentrating in cities, and nativists, worried about of the power of 'foreigners,' blocked efforts to give them more representatives," wrote Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology, medicine and public policy at New York University, and Jacqueline Stevens, a professor of political science at Northwestern University.

So, instead, Congress passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 and sealed the number of House members at the level established after the 1910 census, 435.

Number of House Members Per State

Unlike the U.S. Senate, which consists of two members from each state, the geographic makeup of the House is determined by the population of each state. The only stipulation spelled out in the U.S. Constitution comes in Article I, Section 2, which guarantees each state, territory or district at least one representative.

The Constitution also states that there can be no more than one representative in the House for every 30,000 citizens.

The number of representatives each state gets in the House of Representatives is based on population. That process, known as reapportionment, occurs every 10 years after the decennial population count conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Rep. William B. Bankhead of Alabama, an opponent of the legislation, called the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 "an abdication and surrender of vital fundamental powers." One of the functions of Congress, which created the census, was to adjust the number of seats in Congress to reflect the number of people living in the United States, he said.

Arguments for Expanding the Number of House Members

Advocates for increasing the number of seats in the House say such a move would increase the quality of representation by reducing the number of constituents each lawmaker represents. Each House member now represents about 700,000 people.

The group argues that the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights never intended for the population of each congressional district to exceed 50,000 or 60,000.

"The principle of proportionally equitable representation has been abandoned," the group argues.

Another argument for increasing the size of the House is that is would diminish the influence of lobbyists. That line of reasoning assumes that lawmakers would be more closely connected to their constituents and therefore less likely to listen to special interests.

Arguments Against Expanding the Number of House Members

Advocates for shrinking the size of the House of Representatives often argue that the quality of legislating improves because House members would get to know each other on a more personal level. They also cite the cost of paying for salaries, benefits and travel for not only the lawmakers but their staffs.