Three decades of European government leaders

Hi, this is Gregor, CTO at Datawrapper, with the second Weekly Chart of 2022!

Over four years ago, I published a visualization for the New York Times where I looked at how long European leaders have been serving. The idea was to show just how long Angela Merkel had been in office, right before she was reelected for her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany.

Last month marked the end of her tenure, so I thought it was a good time to update the dataset and re-create the chart in Datawrapper:

Chart choices

To reproduce the chart, I used the Datawrapper scatterplot visualization type and the custom lines feature. I used a few Excel formulas to compute the line coordinates so I didn't have to use programming. You can find a tutorial for creating these lines in our Academy.

After we first published the story in 2017, I learned that these charts are called Lexis diagrams. When demographers use them, the x-axis shows birth years (for government leaders, I interpreted "birth" as the date when they first assumed their office), and the y-axis shows age (or total time in office).

We also included a map in the original story, but I don't think it added too much (except explaining where the countries are, of course), so I left it out for this Weekly Chart.

Data choices

The dataset for this chart is based on the Archigos database on political leaders. Different countries mean different political systems, most of which have more than one head of government (like a president and a prime minister), so one has to select the office which holds the most power. That may also change at any given time when countries reform their constitutions. There are also edge cases like a president stepping down officially but still holding power. So starting from a scientific database definitely made it a lot easier to create this chart!

One thing that was missing, though, which I added while updating the data, is the gender of the leaders. I think this adds an interesting dimension to the chart. Despite good counterarguments, I finally decided to stick with the traditional blue/purple color scheme to make the chart easier to read — especially since I also used toned-down colors to differentiate between former leaders and leaders still in office.

By the way: as you can see, the idea of a female head of government is not particularly new in Europe, ever since Margaret Thatcher broke that ceiling in 1979. But despite the many examples of successful female leaders, it's astonishing to see how male-dominated the crowd of European government leaders still is today.

That's why I want to close this article with a table of all female heads of government in Europe:

I hope you found this data as interesting as I did. Please let me know if you spot any data issues, I'm happy to correct them!