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2021 Conference of the ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender

Youth Representation in National Parliaments

Mona Lena Krook
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Mona Lena Krook
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Mary Nugent
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

The political participation of young people has emerged in recent years as a crucial focus of efforts to enhance democracy worldwide. Most debates to date, however, have focused on young people as voters and as social movement activists – and not on the need to elect more young people to political office. Yet literature on groups and political representation indicates that for the adequate representation of group interests to occur, members of these groups themselves should be present in decision-making forums. Youth fit a variety of existing criteria for increased political representation. First, they form the vast majority of the world’s population, and therefore merit more than a token political presence for reasons of justice and democratic legitimacy. Second, there are issues of particular concern to young people due to their position in the life cycle, like education, university tuition, employment, and military service, as well as issues like climate change or technologies that will have a greater impact on future generations. Third, seeing youth in politics can erode stereotypes in society that young people are not “ready” or “fit” to lead, as well as cultivate a sense among youth that politics is an arena open to their participation. Using data collected by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as well as information we coded from parliamentary websites, we map the representation of young people in parliaments around the world, comparing three different definitions of 'young' (under 30, under 40, and under 45). We then explore these cross-national variations, analyzing the social, economic, cultural, and political factors that might explain why young people are elected in greater numbers to some parliaments compared to others. Our preliminary findings indicate the importance of political variables -- electoral systems, age eligibility rules, and the representation of other politically marginalized groups -- as the primary set of factors accounting for rates of youth representation in national parliaments.
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