Gerontocracy in Italy – The Minimum Legal Voting Age of 25 Years and its Consequences

When asked about the minimum legal voting age in the world, your answer would probably be 18 years. You would be right, as this is the average and most common minimum legal voting age across the globe, with only 27 exceptions where it varies between 16 and 21 years. There is only one, very notable and consequential exception: the minimum legal voting age of 25 for the Senate in Italy. The political, societal and economic consequences of this unusual constraint in Italy may well affect the whole of Europe.

Out of the 50.3 million 18-year-old and older Italian citizens who are entitled to vote for the Chamber of Deputies, 4.3 million (8%) are not allowed to vote for the Senate, whose motion of confidence is inevitable for any government. Given the substantially different electoral bodies of the two chambers, the political majorities in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies are often diverse. This was the case in Italy’s elections in February, which have led to the formation of an odd coalition of left, right and middle parties, the 62nd government in just 68 years. The transient and fickle nature of the government in Italy, the third largest country in the Euro zone, is a danger not only to the country itself but to Europe’s vulnerability too.

Italy’s population is the third oldest in the world whether we look at the median age (44 years), the proportion of people over 65 years, or the ratio of over-64-year-olds to below-15-year-olds. Since the millions of young citizens under the age of 25 may not vote for the Senate, the median age of Senate voters has climbed to around 50 years, with a further increase expected in the next decades. Italy remains the only country where adults are not given full political rights until they are 25 years old. The composition of the Parliament and the government are, thus, primarily determined by the older Italian population and are subject to the choices of only this demographic group.

The minimum legal voting age of 25 is both the cause and consequence of other imbalances in Italy, most often to the disadvantage of the young. This is confirmed by the Intergenerational Justice Index (IJI index) published in April 2013 by Pieter Vanhuysse[1], which aggregates four social, economic and ecological indicators: public debt per child, youth poverty, social spending per capita for the elderly (over 64) divided by that for the rest of the population, and the per capita ecological footprint (Table 1). Among 29 OECD countries, Italy is the 27th on the overall IJI index and in the balance of social spending (Table 2). In Italy, social spending for the elderly (Table 3) is seven times higher than for the rest of the population, whereas in the five highest ranked countries, social spending for the elderly is three times higher than for the rest of their populations. Italy has the fifth highest poverty rate among young people. The public debt per young person is € 220,000 (the second highest among the OECD countries), compared with just € 4,600 in Estonia (the IJI’s top ranking).

Table 1: Intergenerational Justice Index for Italy – 4 Dimensions [2]

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Table 2: Intergenerational Justice Index – Overall Ranking (2013) [3]

Index

Table 3: Elderly-bias Indicator of Social Spending [4]

Untitled2

In Italy, the interests of the elderly are well defended by pensioners’ parties, and by pensioners’ trade unions, but young people do not have a similar advocacy. Sociologist Marco Albertini noted that while being old in 1977 entailed a greater than average risk of low income, in 2004 this risk was lower than average for the elderly and higher than average for those below age 40. Albertini also points out that in the current phase of transition from a retributive to a contributive pension system, young workers are, in fact, paying contributions for two pensions: their own future pensions and that of the current pensioners.

To further emphasise the balance of power that favours the elderly population of Italy, most of the income and assets of wealthy elderly Italians were derived from wealth accumulated during the decades of rapid economic growth after the war. Indeed, the value of these assets is almost certainly greater than what most of today’s young people can expect to acquire, because Italy’s youth lives in a new era of job insecurity, underpayment, unemployment, and stagnating GDP. Moreover, the educational level of elderly Italians is inconsistent with their societal power. Italy has one of the lowest levels of secondary schooling and one of the smallest number of graduates among industrial countries. This gap is even greater among older Italians, a generation who had limited access to higher education.

Lastly, many Italian senior citizens have greater power than senior citizens living elsewhere. In Italy, most influential positions in politics and business are often occupied by men who could be the fathers or grandfathers of their counterparts in other nations. The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, is 88 years old. The former (and perhaps returning) prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is almost 77 years old.

We live in an era in which political and economic leaders tend to disregard the potential negative impacts of their decisions, especially with respect to environmental, technological and financial matters in which choices are aimed at maximizing short-term benefits. As a consequence, young people and future generations have the prospect of living in a world worse than today. In light of this, the atypical political weight bestowed upon the elderly in Italy is ever more disconcerting.

To cope with this reality, many advocate giving more political weight to the young, as is done or proposed in several countries. Wolfgang Gründiger, the young sociologist and spokesman of The Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations, promotes the right to vote from birth, exercised by parents until their children have reached a certain age – an idea also supported by other organizations and politicians in Europe. The majority of members of three German parties (SPD, Grüne, Linke) are in favour of the right to vote from age 16, as implemented in Austria in 2007, in Brazil, in some German states and in the Swiss canton of Glarus.

Sixty-eight years of political gerontocracy in Italy have effectively moulded a corresponding societal gerontocracy. In terms of loss of generational renewal, capacity for innovation, and competitiveness, the social costs of this elder supremacy are unsustainable. The acknowledgement of these ideas have led to the launch of a petition for “Voting age 18”.

With one in two adults under 25 unemployed, it is ironic that the group most in need of political change is without full voting rights. The younger generation deserves a stronger role in politics to secure a better future. Despite decades of active debate surrounding this issue, the desperately needed reforms of the Italian institution are unlikely to be realised in the near future. Lowering the voting age from 25 to 18 is a simple measure that could be done immediately and at zero cost. The resulting intergenerational balance would offer more political stability in Italy that could, in turn, relax Italy’s burden on Europe.

 

 


[1] Vanhuysse, P. (2013), Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies: A Cross-national Comparison of 29 OECD Countries, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung.

[2] Source: Vanhuysse (2013), Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies: A Cross-national Comparison of 29 OECD Countries, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, p. 33

[3] Source: Vanhuysse (2013), Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies: A Cross-national Comparison of 29 OECD Countries, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, p. 37

[4] Source: Vanhuysse (2013), Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies: A Cross-national Comparison of 29 OECD Countries, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, p. 27


This entry was posted in Ageing, Inequality and Poverty, Pensions, Youth by Marco Morosini. Bookmark the permalink.
Marco Morosini

About Marco Morosini

Dr. Marco Morosini was born in Milan in 1952 and was educated in Italy and Germany. Since 2001, he works on indicators systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he was a guest professor in 2004. He was editor of a study on the systems of sustainability indicators at the Centre of Technology Assessment in Baden-Württemberg. Together with Dr Wolfgang Sachs, he co-edited the book “Futuro sostenibile”, Edizioni Ambiente, 2011. In 2006, he had a column in the section “Ethical living” of the Italian Newsmagazine Internazionale. His articles were published in scientific journals, and in newspapers in Italy and abroad.

2 thoughts on “Gerontocracy in Italy – The Minimum Legal Voting Age of 25 Years and its Consequences

  1. I agree. I also think there is an additional issue, that is a widespread one, but applies particularly to Italy and some other countries because of their history of lowest low fertility: many youth have currently foreign citizenship, and therefore are excluded from voting. A comprehensive perspective will have to take into account the inclusion of youth who do not have access to voting, albeit being resident and workers.

    • Dear Francesco Billari, I agree.
      Furthermore: the median age of the italian residents is lowered by the high number of non italian residents, whose median age is probably much lower than for italians. Insofar statistics on the median age in Italy (if based on residents) do not reflect the median age of the voters.

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