Q&A with “Youth without Representation” Authors Daniel Stockemer and Aksel Sundström

by Briana Johnson on December 13, 2022

This guest author post is a Q&A with Daniel Stockemer and Aksel Sundström, authors of Youth without Representation: The Absence of Youth Adults in Parliaments, Cabinets, and Candidacies, from the University of Michigan Press. This book is available in hardcover, paper, and open access.


What surprised you the most while researching? 

The first big surprise to us is the dearth of academic works on youth representation. Youth are probably the most underrepresented group in parliaments, and other political bodies worldwide, but very few scholars have investigated this problem. As such, our book is the first comprehensive study ever published on youths’ lack of representation in parliaments, cabinets and candidacies. The second thing that surprised us is how the deck is stacked against youth wishing to enter politics. In a majority of countries, it is extremely difficult for young adults to make it to positions of power, because of institutional as well as more invisible hurdles. 

 

In your book you note that young adults (those 35 years old or younger) are only 10% of all members of parliaments globally. What are some of the effects of this underrepresentation?

One of the most tangible effects is that youth issues such as climate change or gun control will have difficulties making it to the political agenda. We also believe that youths’ lack of representation feeds into a larger ‘vicious circle’ of political alienation, which is characterized by young adults’ lack of political interest and low rates of conventional political participation.  

 

What is keeping young adults from positions of political power?

Many countries have formal and informal rules in place that benefit senior office holders. Formal rules that hurt young candidates are age barriers to run for office set at 25, 30 or 35 years of age, majoritarian electoral systems, and the lack of term limits. Especially, the latter gives a huge advantage to incumbents that occupy the same seat for years and decades. However, there is also something to say about informal rules. For example, access to social networks is something that benefits older people. Likewise, there is still a strong view among politicians and societies that experience outweighs the innovation younger candidates can bring to parliament. 

 

How does this problem vary across different governments? 

As we mentioned, rules differ across contexts – those with proportional representation electoral systems tend to have legislatures with a higher share of young MPs. The same applies to countries with the minimum age to run for office set at 18 and for countries with term limits. There is also variation across political parties. For instance, young parties tend to have a younger parliamentary caucus. The same applies to a young party leader. A young party leader generally triggers a younger parliamentary delegation. In addition, a young head of government triggers a younger cabinet.  


What do you hope readers will take away from reading Youth without Representation?

We hope that readers take away three things: (1) young adults are one of the most underrepresented groups in political bodies including parliaments and cabinets. (2) This underrepresentation is normatively problematic and feeds into a vicious cycle of youths’ political alienation. (3) We need to think about reforms to alleviate the situation.

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