AT ONLY 34 years of age, Sanna Marin, who was appointed Finland’s prime minister on December 10th, is the youngest head of government in the world. As well as her youth, her gender also makes her something of a rarity, at least by international standards. She is one of only five women among the European Union’s 28 current leaders. What is more, Ms Marin leads a left-wing coalition whose five parties are all led by women, three of whom are under 35. Her cabinet will contain 12 women and seven men: at 63%, the female share is the highest in the European Union.
To Finns, seeing plenty of women in senior political positions is not unusual. As with other Nordic states, Finland has been at the forefront of gender equality in politics for several years. Forty-seven per cent of its parliamentarians are female, one of the highest shares in the world. Ms Marin is the third woman to become prime minister. In the rest of Europe, women find it harder to reach the top jobs. But more of them are getting there. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, a pressure group, the proportion of women in senior positions in EU governments has crept up from 25% in 2009 to 30% this September. And the number of female heads of government has risen from two to five this year. Although Britain’s Theresa May stood down in July, three other women had taken office before Ms Marin: Austria’s interim chancellor, Brigitte Bierlein; Belgium’s prime minister, Sophie Wilmès; and Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen. They join Angela Merkel, who has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005.
Ms Marin knocked two other young politicians off the top of league tables. Ukraine’s Oleksiy Honcharuk, who is 35, was the world’s youngest sitting prime minister (the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is just 41). New Zealand’s Jacinta Ardern, aged 39, had been the youngest woman in such an office. You might say Ms Marin timed her run well: Sebastian Kurz, Ms Bierlein’s predecessor in Austria, was ousted in May at only 32, having been elected at 31. And none of these can hold a candle to William Pitt the Younger, who became Britain’s prime minister in 1783 at a mere 24 years old.
Her youth may give Ms Marin’s party an edge in future elections. She boasts 70,000 followers on Instagram—a decent share of the country’s 5.5m people—where she shares pictures of her toddler, party hustings and the campaign trail. That said, youth didn’t guarantee Mr Kurz his job; and at 70 his replacement, Ms Bierlein, is the EU’s second-oldest head of government. In truth, neither youth nor age need be a barrier in politics. Ask Malaysia’s prime minister, who returned in 2018 after 15 years out of office. Mahathir Mohamad is 94.