Youth without Representation— new book —Daniel Stockemer and Aksel Sundström

Whether it is structural gerontocracy or a lack of interest by younger people, elected politicians under the age of 40 are rare.

In a well-received new book for the University of Michigan Press, two Scandinavian political scientists set out to give the most complete picture to-date of the youth “gap” in politics.

“Officeholders in contemporary parliaments and cabinets are more likely than not to be male, wealthy, middle-aged or older, and from the dominant ethnicity, whereas young adults have an insufficient presence in political office. Young adults—those aged 35 years or under—comprise a mere ten percent of all parliamentarians globally, and three percent of all cabinet members. Compared to their presence in the world’s population, this age group faces an underrepresentation of one to three in parliament and one to ten in cabinet. 

In this book launch Stockemer provides a holistic account of youths’ marginalization in legislatures, cabinets, and candidacies for office through a comparative lens. He argues that youths’ underrepresentation in political office constitutes a democratic deficit and provide ample evidence for why he thinks that youth must be present in politics at much higher rates.

Two issues arise. One, should the political leadership reflect the socio-economic profile of the populace more closely? As an aspirational goal, the answer is “yes.”

Two, how should political leadership be more closely aligned to the characteristics of the population? The use of quotas to allocate legislative seats is a favourite answer of social planners. The result has typically been a corporatist legislature dominated by a strong executive able to divide and conquer any potential opposition.

A planned opposition sounds suspiciously like a tamed opposition.