Contours of the Modern Congressional Career

John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


In the last 40 years careerism has hit Congress full force, yet we do not know much about the pros and cons of lengthy congressional careers. I describe the changes typically occurring over the course of extended stays in Congress and then show that these contours have shifted over the decades such that for most aspects of congressional service (electoral support, formal positions held, and constituency attention) there is less differentiation between a member's early and late career stages than there used to be. However, a major exception exists to the diminution of life cycle effects in Congress: pure legislative involvement (raw levels of activity combined with the extent to which a member's legislative agenda is focused and efficient), despite widely held beliefs about the death of apprenticeship, is now more than ever dependent on tenure. In relative terms, junior members are less legislatively involved than they were a few decades ago. While many portions of congressional service are now routinized from the beginning, legislative involvement comes not just with a subcommittee chair but only with experience. This finding has clear implications both for proposals to limit congressional terms and for perceptions of congressional careerism in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-428
Number of pages24
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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