NYRIS 11 Presentation

And here is the abstract and the slides to my presentation. I gave it at Mon 13 of June at NYRIS 11 in Turku in the stream 1 „active youth participation“

Youth councils in the German State of Baden-Württemberg (BW) and Finland

By: Sebastian Müller (University of Education Freiburg) June 14, 2011

Keywords: youth political attitudes, political participation, political behavior, democracy

What was the study about?

In both Finland and the German state of Baden-Württemberg, there are youth councils. Youth council was defined for the study as: “Elected bodies composed of people between the ages of 12 and 22, that are instituted by the local authority and deal with public policy.”

In recent years, the amount of youth councils has increased in both areas to more than 80 in BW and more than 90 in Finland. In BW, the spread of youth councils began around the mid 1990s, in Finland it began around the turn of the century. Both umbrella organizations have a working relationship since 2006, delegations visit each other annually and they participate in joint action.

There are very few scientific enquiries dealing specifically with youth councils, and up to now there was none dealing with them in both areas.

In both regions I sent out two kinds of questionnaires: one dealing with the structures and the other with attitudes of youth councilors. This questionnaire was based on the work done by Michael C. Hermann, who investigated youth councils in BW in 1995.

Youth councils in Baden-Württemberg

Youth councils in the state of Baden-Württemberg are based on the state local council act §41a, which states that a council can institute special structures in order to facilitate the political participation of youth.

In Baden-Württemberg 50 of the 82 municipalities surveyed responded (63 %). The largest city had 130.000 inhabitants, the smallest 3000, averaging around 35800 inhabitants. The budget of the youth councils ranged from 0 to 15900 Euros. The number of youths ranged between 641 and 13181, the average was 2446.

  • The first youth council was founded in 1985; the latest three were all founded in 2009.  Most were founded after 1997.
  • 75% elect their youth council in schools, 22% via lists.
  • Most youth council terms are for 2 years (67%), followed by 3 years (25%).
  • Participation of voters ranged from 9% to 90%, median 37%. There was no correlation between the size of the city or the budget of the youth council, and there was no correlation between the time a youth council existed and voters’ participation.
  • In 42% of the councils, the local mayor was the chairman; in 54% a youth councilor.
  • The average amount of youth councilors was 16.56, with the the smallest having 7 and the largest 31 having members. So we can guess that currently there are more than 1500 youth active in the youth councils in BW.
  • 37 of the 50 youth councils have the right to present their own formal motions to the city council. 47 have the right to speak at council meetings.
  • The average employee of the youth councils was employed for 23% of a fulltime job to do youth council work. Ranging from 0% mostly in smaller municipalities up to 50% in large cities.

When I asked which topics are discussed in the youth councils, I got the following responses: 14x youth centers, 13x public transport (esp. night busses), 13x youth council organizational things, 11x schools and education, 10x skateboarding / skate parks, 8x violence, 8x city planning and spraying/graffiti 6x each.

Youth councils in Finland

Basis for youth participation in Finnish municipalities is the Youth Law of 2006 that stipulates that youth be given a means of participation.

the typical Finish youth councilor: female and under 17 years

Of the 92 municipalities I surveyed 24 replied.

  • The smallest municipality had 3500 inhabitants, the largest 244330 inhabitants; average: 45356 inhabitants.
  • The municipality with the smallest number of youth had 200, the largest 50000; the average was 4717.
  • The first council was founded in 1975, the second 1996, and all others after that.
  • Voter participation was between 18% and 90%; average: 46%. 13 municipalities didn’t respond.
  • 25% were chaired by a youth councilor.
  • 15 said their agenda was made by the youth council as opposed to the city government.
  • 46% had the right to make motions.
  • 21 have the right to speak in the city council
  • The largest budget was 30000 EUR, the average 8499 EUR.
  • The items election period, employees and amount of youth councilors had translation problems and couldn’t be answered.

Attitudes in Finland and Baden-Württemberg

In BW: I sent out 820 questionnaires to the offices of youth councils, distributed 60 at the meeting of the umbrella organization and got back 320 (about 39%).

In Finland: I send out around 800 questionnaires and got back 185 (about 23%). I didn’t analyze the comments and the free text due to a lack of language ability.

Interestingly the views of Finnish and BW youth councillors are very similar. Of 24 items surveyed, the differences in the items were below 10% in 18, above 10% in 6, and in only two larger then 40%:

  1. Finnish youth councillors consider the participation abilities of youth to be much better than do their BW counterparts.
  2. In Finland the respondents are less interested in local politics then in BW.

As for the views of BW and Finnish youth councillors and their differences, which might stem from different attitudes or translation problems, I’d ask you to have a look at this table in German and Finnish: http://sbamueller.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/germanyouthcouncilorsandtheirviews.pdf


In BW 60% of all youth councilors attend Gymnasium, 11% attend Realschule, 4% Hauptschule, 14% do a job training. So we can assume that there is a bias towards Gymnasium, but not as big as frequently alleged by critics of youth councils.

For age distribution: the blue line is for Finland the orange dotted line is for Baden-Württemberg.

Gender: Compared to BW, Finnish youth councilors are more often female (63% women as compared to 47,2%) and younger.

For memberships in BW and Finland I found the following data:

Baden-Württemberg Finland





1. Church youth group or church organization





2. Sporting club or team





3. Red Cross, Volunteer Firefighters, …





4. Political youth organization (Young Greens, …)





5. Conservation groups, nature groups (greenpeace, …)





6. Highschool students council





7. Musicclub





8. NGO





9. others:





Compared to other studies concerning youth involvement, I found that youth council members are much more involved and participative than the general youth population.


  • Organizing research in two countries is difficult and expensive.
  • Youth councillors have little political cynicism and a positive attitude towards the political system.
  • In youth councils a broad spectrum of topics is discussed.
  • Youth councillors make positive experience in participation.
  • Youth council members think their participation in the youth council is good for their personal advancement (job, university placement).
  • If the vote takes place at schools the participation rate is higher.
  • The bigger the municipality, the bigger the youth council, but not necessarily its budget or number of employees.
  • Women are better integrated into youth councils in BW than into actual city councils, and better than in 1995.
  • In Finland men are under represented (!), as 63 % of youth council members are women.
  • The umbrella organizations have potential to improve their outreach to youth council members (individuals).
  • The views of Finnish and BW youth councillors are very similar except in two cases:
    • Finnish youth councillors consider youth participation abilities in their communities to be much better then their BW counterparts
    • In Finland the respondents are less interested in local politics than in BW.

Full presentation as paper and the slides:


Youth councils in BW and Fi Abstract Sebastian Müller (PDF)

You can find more about my study here and of course here.


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