A Brief Look at Diversity in the German Parliament

In light of the upcoming German federal elections in September 2017, I take a brief look at the age and gender distribution in the German Parliament – the Bundestag – from its establishment in 1949 to the last general election in 2013. The figure below sums up the most interesting findings, starting with the observation that while the age composition changed over time, the average age of the representatives  stayed relatiely constant over the past seven decades (at around 50 years at the start of the legislative term). In addition, it highlights that the number of female representatives has risen considerably from a meagre 28 out of 382 members in the 1st Bundestag (1949-1953) to 230 out of 631 in the current (18th) term.



Source: own figure based on official data made available on the Bundestag website

The figure above remains a draft and will certainly require some more work. However, it shows very clearly how the size of the parliament evolved over time – a particularly interesting observation is the increase in size of the Bundestag following the German re-unification in 1990, which ballooned the parliament from 519 to 662 seats. (The blue line at the margins and the corresponding values indicated the average age of representatives.)

If this made you curious about the data, but you feel overwhelmed by the first graph (or are concerned about the perceptual problems associated with the combination of polar coordinates with stacked bar charts), you might like the cleaner, less ornamental figures below.

1. Age Distribution

As the blue line and respective values surrounding the first figure show, the average age in the Bundestag hasn’t changed much over the last decades. The ‘youngest’ Bundestag was the 7th Bundestag (1972-1976), followed closely by the two subsequent sessions, i.e., WP8 and WP9 (‘WP’, by the way, stands for ‘Wahlperiode’ – legislative period).

This might be due to changes in the eligibility criteria: in 1972, the required age to run as a candidate in the parliamentary election was lowered from 25 to 21 years. In 1976, it was again decreased to include all adults above 18 years. As we can see in figure 2, WP7 included a particularly high number of very young (<30) representatives, although only one representative under 25 won a seat in the parliament – the next time an under 25-year-old entered the parliament was nearly two decades later, in 1990.

It is important to note that all respective ages are measured at the beginning of the legislative term. Because of the usual four-year term, there might thus be a case for adding two years to depict the true average age of the representatives during the term more accurately. (I, however, am presenting the data as is.)

Similarly, the ‘oldest’ Bundestag (WP4) coincides with the end of the era Adenauer, who was Chancellor until the age of 87, and whose last parliament included a total of 13 representatives over 70 years old.

Figure 2 – Age Distribution in the German Parliament (1949-2017) 


Source: own figure based on official data made available on the Bundestag website

2. Towards Gender Equality in the Bundestag

The figure below clearly shows a trend towards an increasing representation of women in the Bundestag. However, female representatives still only constitute little more than a third (~36 percent in the current term) of the plenum. It will be interesting to see whether this year’s elections will lead to a further increase.

It also seems that the number of women increased quite rapidly after the German re-unification in 1990. In this regard, it would be interesting to see whether the parliament of the German Democratic Republic, i.e., East Germany, was generally more gender-balanced than the West German Bundestag and whether more female representatives were elected from constituencies in the former East Germany. Maybe another time …

Figure 3 – Gender Distribution in the German Parliament (1949-2017) 


Source: own figure based on official data made available on the Bundestag website


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