Intergenerational Justice Prize 2017/18

For the 2017/2018 prize, the FRFG and IF call for papers on the following topic:

poster_intergenerational justice prize 201718-1How attractive are political parties and trade unions to young people?

Political parties are intrinsically linked to the functioning of modern democracies. They provide fundamental linkage mechanisms of representation and participation that connect citizens with the state (Keman 2014; Webb 2000). Party members and affiliates, more generally, are in this respect one of the linking mechanisms that are beneficial for the effective functioning of political representation.
Members are often described as the “eyes and ears” (Kölln/Polk 2017; Kölln 2017) of parties in the electorate because of their communicative role. They bring new policy ideas to the party and communicate the party’s programme within society. In addition, members are among the primary sources of political personnel because party membership is often an informal prerequisite for acquiring political office. From this representative perspective and following the notion of “descriptive representation” (Mainsbridge 1999), members’ social makeup should ideally reflect that of the general population.
Although party members have hardly ever been entirely representative of the population in their demographic characteristics (Scarrow/Gezgor 2010), the general decline of party membership seems to affect younger generations disproportionately. They enrol less often in parties, render¬ing the parties’ age-profiles all too often considerably older than the broader electorate that they hope to embrace (Bruter/Harrison 2009; Scarrow/Gezgor 2010). For instance, the share of young members (under 26 years old) in German parties is at most 6.3 % (LINKE) but can also be as little as 2.2 % (CSU) (Niedermayer 2016). In contrast, around one quarter of the general population belongs to this age group. And even though the age-profile of Swedish parties is considerably better, with over 14 % of members being under 26 years old (Kölln/Polk 2017), this figure is largely driven by members of the Green Party (Miljöpartiet) in which almost 26 % are under 26 years old. In other countries, hardly any of these problems seem to exist. According to 2017 figures from the United Kingdom, the share of members aged 18-24 reflects the general popula¬tion of 8.9 % quite well: group size estimates suggest that 18-24s make up 14.4 % of the Green Party, 13.2 %  of the Con¬servative Party and 11.5 % of the Labour Party, with only the Scottish National Party and UK Inde¬pendence Party (UKIP) below the 8.9 %, at 6.9 % and 6.7 % respectively (UK Party Members Project; https://esrcpartymembersproject.org).
Overall, however, the statistics suggest not only an age problem in political parties across many European democracies, but also substantial country- and party-level differences. German parties seem to be doing particularly poorly in the descriptive representation of the young, while other countries and individual parties are apparently much better in engaging younger generations.

Trade unions are facing similar problems in recruiting young members across Europe (Gumbrell-McCormick/Hyman 2013). Reasons for this pattern might be found in the dominant political issues that trade unions care about. Younger people are confronted with the rapidly changing nature of the workplace as well as the rise in temporary work and zero-hour contracts, and are probably more interested in salaries, entry requirements and work contracts, rather than in end-of-career matters such as pensions and retirement ages. The skewed age profile of trade unions could shift the discussion more towards the latter con¬cerns, deterring younger generations and reinforcing existing age problems.

Given members’ importance and their overall age profile, it could be argued that political power or access to it is unequally distributed between the young and old. Parties and trade unions might be disproportionally representing older rather than younger generations because of their own social-demographic makeup. This could create an unjust distribution of political influence between living generations.

The Intergenerational Justice Prize 2017/18 aims to illuminate the complex relationship between young people and political parties and trade unions. It invites analyses of proposals for reform from the literature, such as an introductory stage of full membership and reforms of party con-ventions, participatory modes and structures.
Entries to the competition could approach the topic through a broad range of questions, includ-ing:

  • Is the unequal representation of young members in and for political parties and trade unions problematic from a democratic perspective?
  • What about the age structure of employers’ associations? Could the underrepresentation of younger members be viewed as a problem here as well?
  • How great is the reluctance of young people to engage in and for political parties and trade unions from an internationally comparative perspective, for instance OECD-wide? What can we learn from a historically comparative perspective?
  • Why do young people avoid political parties and trade unions?
  • Why are some parties and trade unions better than others in engaging younger people?
  • What can parties and trade unions do to attract more young members or affiliates and to retain them? What lessons can be learned from examples in which specific parties or unions have accomplished this, such as recently the British Labour Party?
  • What role can the youth organisations of political parties and trade unions play in increasing the attractiveness of their mother organisations?
  • Do regulations prohibit specific reform measures which could render parties and unions more attractive for young people? What role do membership fees play?
  • What would be the consequences if young people permanently and irrevocably eschewed political parties?Note that these are non-binding suggestions: participants are strongly encouraged to come up with their own research puzzles. You may adapt the title according to your chosen subject, but the paper must in essence reflect the topic. All ideas presented in the submitted papers should be innovative, creative and with a focus on civil society issues, with practical applications. The FRFG and IF particularly appreciate participants trying to explain complex ideas in as simple and accessible terms as possible. Submitted research papers may employ all possible methodological approaches.

The Intergenerational Justice Prize is endowed with EUR 10,000. The prize money will be distrib-uted proportionally among the best submissions, which can be more or less than the top three submissions. Winning submissions will be considered for publication by the editorial team of the Intergenerational Justice Review (IGJR; www.igjr.org) for the winter issue 2018.

The prize is open to all researchers and young researchers. To participate, please contact Antony Mason ( This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) to request the formal entry requirements.
Submissions deadline is 01 July 2018.