Diversity in Parliament

Austria’s newly elected National Assembly is the most female and diverse in its history – but imbalances remain.

On October 22, the Austrian National Assembly (Nationalrat) assembled for the first time following the elections, revealing the new face of the parliament. Unsurprisingly, some groups are well-presented in the chamber, others less well, and some missing altogether.

What follows are some of the key statistics and the highlights, from a study by the Austrian daily Der Standard.

Let’s get started with some basic stats.

  • There are 183 MPs in Austria’s National Assembly.
    • Christian Democrats (ÖVP): 71 MPs
    • Social Democrats (SPÖ): 40 MPs
    • Freedom Party (FPÖ): 30 MPs
    • Greens: 26 MPs
    • NEOS: 15 MPs
    • No party affiliation: 1 MP

And let’s now delve a bit deeper into the background of these representative.

Female representation in Parliament

A total of 72 MPs are female, which amounts to a share of 39.34%.

  • That’s the fifth-highest share in the EU – but still some way from the 50/50 split of the general population
  • The Greens fare best on this measure, with 15 MPs (57.7%) who are women
  • The SPÖ with 19 female MPs (47.5%) and the Neos with 6 female MPs (40%) are also on a good track
  • The ÖVP with 26 female MPs (36.6%), and especially the FPÖ with 5 female MPs (16.7%) are much farther behind

How old are the people in Parliament?

Austria’s parliamentarians are older than the general population, which is overall a reflection of their longer experience in the public sphere or in their respective careers.

  • Most parliamentarians fall either in the age range 30-45 (58 MPs / 31.7%) or 45-60 (92 MPs / 50.3%) – in the general population it’s 24.1% and 27.8%, respectively;
  • That means both the young and old are relatively underrepresented
  • The age range 18-30 is represented by 13 MPs (7.1% vs. a share of 18.3% in the general population)
  • And only 20 MPs (10.9%) are 60+, compared to a 29.8% share of the Austrian population

Immigrant background in Parliament

The share of people with an immigrant background (i.e. either they themselves or one of their parents were born abroad) is far higher in the general population than in Parliament.

Only 9 MPs (4.9%) have an immigrant background, while the share in the Austrian population is 22.9%.

  • In fact, only three out of five parties have MPs with immigrant background at all – both the ÖVP and FPÖ don’t have any
  • The Greens fare, again, best on this measure, with 6 MPs (22.9%) of immigrant background practically reaching the general share of 23.1%
  • The Neos have 1 MP (6.7%) with migrant background
  • The SPÖ has 2 MPs (5%) with international background

Education backgrounds in Parliament

Austria’s parliamentarians have significantly more years of schooling than the general population. A total of 91 MPs (49.7%) have an academic degree, while only 13.4% of Austrians are academics.

This is both unsurprising and could be seen as desirable – although it may make sense to be on the look out for talent with different kinds of experience that are also relevant and which can be vital to sound decision-making.

  • Here, for once, the traditional broad people’s parties are more representative than their smaller peers
  • Both ÖVP and SPÖ have a share of 40% academics and 60% non-academics, coming relatively closer to Austria’s 13/87 split than other parties
  • The Neos and the FPÖ both have approximately the reversed ratio, with 60% being academics and around 40% non-academics
  • Finally, the Greens have the highest share of academics in the National Assembly with 80%

Federal State (Bundesland)

Those who have lived for a while in Austria know how important regional identities are ­– Austria has 8.8 million people, but 9 strongly-minded Bundesländer and numerous smaller regions that feel strongly about their place, too.

This diversity is reflected astonishingly well in Parliament – especially compared to other democracies, where the capital often dominates – and it can be seen a testament to how strong Austrians feel about this. Parties and the electoral system reflect these wishes.

  • Almost every Bundesland is represented by a share of MPs that corresponds to the federal state’s population
  • Four Bundesländer are slightly overrepresented: Vienna (23.5% share of MPs vs 21.4% share of general population), Burgenland (4.9% vs 3.3%), Lower Austria (19.7% vs 19%) and Upper Austria (16.9% vs 16.7%)
  • The other five federal states are ever so slightly underrepresented: Salzburg (6% share of MPs vs 6.3% of general population), Carinthia (6% vs 6.4%), Vorarlberg (3.3% vs 4.4%), Tyrol (7.7% vs 8.5%) and Styria (12% vs 14.1%)

The different professions in Parliament

When it comes to their former or current professions, parliamentarians also differ from the general population, which however is no surprise – being a politician is for many a profession in itself, so it makes sense that there are many in our highest chamber.

Nevertheless, a look at the professional background of MPs still paints an interesting picture.

  • The largest share by far are politicians and party functionaries, with 56 MPs or 30.6% of the assembly
    • Interestingly, over half of the SPÖ’s parliamentarians fall into this category (23 MPs or 57.7%)
    • It’s only a third for the FPÖ (10 MPs / 33.3%)
    • And a fifth for the other parties, such as the Greens (6 MPs / 23.1%), the Neos (3 MPs / 20%) and the ÖVP (14 MPs / 19.7%)
  • 24 MPs (13.1%) are or have been self-employed or entrepreneurs
    • Here, the ÖVP has the highest share (18 MPs / 25.4%) and the SPÖ the lowest with no MP with this background (0%)
  • 20 MPs (10.9%) have worked in law or legal services
    • The FPÖ leads in this category (5 MPs / 16.7%), with the SPÖ last (1 MP / 2.5%)
  • 14 MPs (7.7%) formerly worked for the state as civil servants
    • The FPÖ has the highest share also in this category (4 MPs / 13.3%), both the Greens and Neos the lowest with no MPs (0%)
  • 14 MPs (7.7%) are or have been farmers
    • This category is almost exclusively dominated by the ÖVP (12 MPs / 16.9%)
    • Two parties have on MP in this category each, namely the Greens (1 MP / 3.8%) and the FPÖ (1 MP / 3.3%)
    • The other parties have no representatives in this category
  • 11 MPs (6%) are teaching in some capacity
    • Strongest here the Greens (3 MPs / 11.5%), the FPÖ has the lowest share (1 MP / 3.3%)
  • Finally, there’s a catch-all category of “Miscallenous” which applies to 44 MPs (24%)

So does proportional representation matter? Studies have shown that it does. Social measures passed by parliaments with a higher share of women benefit more women. The same is true, empirically, for workers’ right, integration measures and other salient topics.

A perfect fit is of course unattainable and, in some categories, for example education or profession, not even desirable. Nevertheless, parties can do a lot to increase diversity. As the Greens and the NEOS show, and which fare far better in many categories (women, immigrant background) than the other parties.

Evidently, the electoral system also plays a major role. In Austria’s case, the system takes the geographic distribution of votes into account – as the almost perfect representation of Austria’s Bundesländer shows. On the other hand, 1.1 million people living in Austria who are over 18 are not Austrian citizens and thus neither vote nor run for public office.

Is Austria’s new parliament more diverse? Definitely – just the inclusion of the Greens and the strengthened NEOS will increasingly change the conversation. Which is all to the good.

(Foto credit:© Parlamentsdirektion / Johannes Zinner)

Benjamin Wolf
Born 1991, studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history.Photo: Visual Hub


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