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Ann-Kristin Kölln
Antony Mason
Maria Lenk
Jörg Tremmel
Markus Rutsche


Among the many headlines that followed the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, one stood out as very good news for political representation: the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Irrespective of one’s political leanings – Republican or Democrat – it is an extraordinary achievement for a 29-year-old woman and daughter to a Puerto Rican to be elected into the House of Representatives. Against a predominantly old, male, and white sitting Congress, her election means a step towards better representation of certain demographics in American policy-making processes.

Ocasio-Cortez represents a minority around the world, as young-(er) people are notoriously underrepresented in political parties and trade unions – in fact, in political decision-making processes writ large. And this despite the fact that a 29-year-old will have to live a lot longer with the intended and unintended consequences of political decisions taken in 2018. In other words, while younger people are disproportionately affected by political decisions, they are at the same time heavily underrepresented in organisations and processes leading to the decisions.

The first prize of the Intergenerational Justice Prize 2017/18 was awarded to Mona Lena Krook and Mary K. Nugent who contribute to this debate by arguing that lowering the eligibility age to run for office leads to better representation of the youngest and next-youngest cohorts in parliament. Drawing on data from 144 countries and 192 parliaments, they first show that the average “waiting period” for citizens – defined as the difference between the legal voting age and the legal age for holding office – is 5.3 years. By combining these data with MPs’ ages from around the world, they are able to show a strong correlation between eligibility age and MPs’ ages. In their words, the results show that “the average impact of reducing the minimum age to stand for office from 25 to 18 would be to increase the proportion of MPs under 45 by over 5 percentage points”. Based on literature on women and young people in politics, the authors attribute these effects to the mobilising character of a lower age requirement. It allows citizens to compete in elections at a younger age and this increases the probability of younger people being represented in parliament.

Aksel Sundström and Daniel Stockemer, also among the winners of the Intergenerational Justice Prize 2017/18, take a closer look at the age of parliamentarians and investigate which political parties can help to foster the election of young parliamentarians, and to what extent. After all, political parties act as gatekeepers because they are in control of the list of candidates running for election. Drawing on theories of party politics, the authors argue for five different factors that could possibly explain the share of young MPs: the age of the party leader, the age of the party, the size of party support, the party’s ideology, and the party’s formal recruitment procedure for candidates. In other words, the authors theorise that having a young network, a large outreach, and an ideology or organisational structure that attracts the young should increase a party’s share of young MPs. To test their hypotheses, the authors use data on over 6,000 Members of the European Parliament ever elected and match them with information on party characteristics. Rather surprisingly, their various statistical models show no noteworthy effect of any of the party characteristics on the representation of young MPs in the European Parliament, 1979-2019. Only parties with a more libertarian ideology, as opposed to an authoritarian ideology, are predicted to have somewhat
younger MEPs. But the effects are small. This suggests that, irrespective of their individual features, there are hardly any noteworthy differences between parties’ ability to promote the election of young MPs. It follows that other parties may want to adopt other means to accomplish a better representation of the young; the authors’ suggestion of applying youth quotas within parties provides one potential avenue.

In the final article by the winners of this year’s Intergenerational Justice Prize, Thomas Tozer discusses the potential of quotas in his normative contribution on the representation of the young. He makes a case for the normative desirability of “descriptive representation” of the young within political parties and trade unions. Specifically, he argues that democracy requires the promoting of substantive equality and people’s substantive interests and that descriptive representation of the young can achieve both. This is because the young have unique concerns that are significant and because their concerns might be affected by representatives’ behaviour.
Quotas that require parties and trade unions to enrol a certain share of young members, Tozer argues, might be an option but not ideal because people choose to become members of such organisations. As an alternative, he proposes the creation of incentives for young people to join parties and trade unions, such as free membership.

In the book review section, Emily Ford assesses Richard Katz and Peter Mair’s Democracy and the Cartelization of Political Parties (2018, OUP). The book’s central argument is that parties are developing or have already developed into cartels, driven by a desire to maintain their position in the face of declining political participation. They limit political competition between them and try to deter new party entry. Ford’s review overall is positive and she recommends the book to scholars and students as a discussion of the social pressures that parties are exposed to and how they are coping with them.

In a second book review, Anna Braam writes about Ian Gough’s Heat, Greed and Human Need. Climate Change, Capitalism and Sustainable Wellbeing (2017, Edward Elgar), a recent study which suggests three steps for countries to accomplish staying below a 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial temperatures: eco-efficient production, changing patterns of consumption, and a reduction of absolute consumption. According to Braam, the book’s interdisciplinary approach – drawing on economic, ecological, political and social aspects of climate change – is convincing, and the book’s argument is credible, especially regarding the rich countries.

Ann-Kristin Kölln (Guest editor, Aarhus University, Denmark)
Antony Mason (IF)
Maria Lenk (FRFG)
Jörg Tremmel (University of Tübingen)
Markus Rutsche (University of St. Gallen)

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