Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019
Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019 by nrkbeta (CC BY-SA)

Youngest Elected Leaders Around the World

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Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019
Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019 by nrkbeta (CC BY-SA)

Changing of the Guard

Perhaps it's the looming threat of climate change and concern about the future of the planet. Or frustrations over injustices they've witnessed during their lifetime, or a desire to solve problems in their communities themselves. Whatever the driving force, an increasing number of young people have been entering politics around the country and the world in recent years. During the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, for instance, more than a fifth of the 91 freshmen members-elect were millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. The current election cycle may swell those numbers even further as a record 703 millennials are running for Congress, compared to just 264 in 2018. Variations of this narrative are playing out in countries around the world. Here are some of the youngest elected leaders holding office right now.

Related: The Oldest World Leaders Currently in Power

Emmanuel Macron
Wikimedia Commons

Emmanuel Macron, 42

President of France
Years served: 3
Elected at just 39 years old, Emmanuel Macron was the youngest president in France's history. Even more surprising perhaps, Macron never held any previous elected office prior to his current role. But that doesn't mean that Macron was a political newcomer. His resume includes serving as economic minister in the country as well working on Francois Hollande's 2012 presidential campaign and serving as Hollande's deputy secretary-general. Macron defeated his opponent for president in 2017 with 66 percent of the vote.

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Juri Ratas
Juri Ratas by Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, 2017 (CC BY)

Jüri Ratas, 42

Prime Minister of Estonia
Years served: 4
Centrist Jüri Ratas was elected prime minister at age 38. The son of a politician, Ratas has a master's degree in economic sciences and a bachelor's degree in law. His professional background prior to becoming prime minister was varied and included everything from working as an analyst for the Building Research Institute to market researcher and also as a sales representative for an insurance company. Ratas also helped develop Estonian basketball. Eventually he became involved in government in the capital city of Tallinn: first being elected economic adviser and later as deputy mayor, mayor and also to the Tallinn City Council. He was elected prime minister in 2016.

portrait photograph of Varadkar
portrait photograph of Varadkar by Oireachtas (Open Data) PSI Licence (CC BY)

Leo Varadkar, 41

Prime Minister of Ireland
Years served: 3
When elected at age 38 in June 2017, Leo Varadkar became Ireland's youngest and first openly gay prime minister. Varadkar, who has a medical degree, made his first run for a local government office at age 20, while still a medical student. He lost that race but continued to work his way up steadily through the political ranks in Ireland beginning with a county council seat and later becoming minister for health and then minister for social protection. Throughout all of these roles, Varadkar developed a reputation for outspokenness and offering plain talk.

Related: What Other Countries Are Doing to Make Voting Accurate and Accessible

Josh Hawley
Wikimedia Commons

Josh Hawley, 40

Senator, Missouri
Years served: 2
Formerly Missouri's attorney general, Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate at age 40 when he defeated two-term Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, Hawley had earlier made a name for himself by litigating cases at the Supreme Court. He also taught constitutional law at the University of Missouri law school and served as senior counsel to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit.

Related: 14 Tricky Tactics That Could Cost You Your Vote

Xavier Espot Zamora
Xavier Espot Zamora by Estonian Foreign Ministry (CC BY)

Xavier Espot Zamora, 40

President of Andorra
Years served: 1
Elected to his current office in 2019 at age 39, Zamora was formerly the justice minister for the tiny, independent territory that lies between the countries of France and Spain. His previous experience also includes serving as the minister of social affairs, justice and interior for Andorra. Zamora prepared for his political career by earning a master's degree in law from the Faculty of the Superior School of Business Administration and Management. He also has a degree in humanities.

Carlos Alvarado en San José
Carlos Alvarado en San José by MadriCR (CC BY-SA)

Carlos Alvarado Quesada, 40

President of Costa Rica
Years served: 2
Costa Rica's 48th president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada rose to power as part of the country's left-leaning progressive Citizens Action Party. His varied background also includes working as a journalist and political scientist. He's also an author (he wrote the novel "Las Posesiones") and a musician. Alvarado served as minister of human development under Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, and later served as minister of labor and social security. He kicked off his presidential campaign in 2017 and was 38 when elected. A rising star on the international stage, Alvarado has been a leader in tackling climate change, which earned him a spot on a recent Time 100 Next list.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, photographed in Tauranga, New Zealand, 29 August 2018.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, photographed in Tauranga, New Zealand, 29 August 2018. by Newzild (CC BY-SA)

Jacinda Ardern, 40

Prime Minister of New Zealand
Years served: 3
Ardern has become something of an international celebrity, thanks in large part to her sensitive and effective stances on such issues as gun control after the Christchurch terror attacks and elimination of the coronavirus in the country using a strong science-based strategy. First elected in 2017 at age 37, she was the youngest prime minister of the country in more than 150 years. Ardern's involvement in the political arena began early, at the age of 17, when she joined the Labour Party and assisted in the reelection campaign of Harry Duynhoven, a Labour member of parliament. Later she held a staff position in Prime Minister Helen Clark's administration. Ardern was just re-elected to her second term in a landslide victory. 

borde
borde by AndreX (CC BY-SA)

Nayib Bukele, 39

President of El Salvador
Years served: 1
A conservative businessman and former mayor, Nayib Bukele took on his role as president in June 2019 at age 37. Though Bukele began his political career as part of the country's leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), by the time he was elected president of the country, he had switched to the conservative Great Alliance for National Unity party. Seen a populist, Bukele rode into office on a wave of fierce criticism of past presidents. His campaign slogans include such lines as "There's enough money when nobody steals" and also "Return what was stolen."

Related: The Most Ridiculous Trump and Biden Campaign Merch Available

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin by Kremlin.ru (CC BY)

Sebastian Kurz, 34

Chancellor of Austria
Years served: 3
First elected Austria's chancellor in 2017 at the age of 31 and then sworn in for a second term in January 2020, Sebastian Kurz is the world's youngest democratically elected leader. His political career began as a Vienna city councilor. Later Kurz took on the role of State Secretary for Integration at the Federal Ministry for the Interior, after which he did a four-year stint as Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Marin smiling
Marin smiling by Laura Kotila, valtioneuvoston kanslia (CC BY)

Sanna Marin, 34

Prime Minister of Finland
Years served: Less than one
Sanna Marin had a meteoric rise through the political ranks in her home country of Finland. She began her political career at 27, when she became head of the city administration of Tampere, a city of about 230,000 people. Later, at age 30, Marin was elected as a member of parliament of the Social Democrat Party. On Dec. 10, 2019, at 34, she became prime minister, the youngest in the history of Finland and only the third woman to lead the country. It's also worth noting that Marin leads a coalition headed entirely by women.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Wikimedia Commons

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 31

U.S. House of Representatives
Years served: 2
Probably one of the best-known members of the 2018 freshman class, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as many call her) made history in 2018 by becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at age 29. Her inspiring story includes growing up in the Bronx, New York's poorest community, and then going on to study economics and international relations at Boston University. AOC was working as a bartender to help support her working-class family when the political novice launched her campaign for the House of Representatives. She scored a shocking upset in her congressional district by earning 78 percent of the vote, transforming her life within just one year from making craft cocktails in Manhattan to making policy in Washington, D.C.

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