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100 Working Paper

Portuguese Ministers, 1851-1999: Social Background and Paths to Power

May 28, 2017 Antonio Costa Pinto and Pedro Tavares de Almeida


This paper provides an empirical analysis of the impact of regime changes in the composition and patterns of recruitment of the Portuguese ministerial elite throughout the last 150 years. The ‘out-of-type’, violent nature of most regime transformations accounts for the purges in and the extensive replacements of the political personnel, namely of the uppermost officeholders. In the case of Cabinet members, such discontinuities did not imply, however, radical changes in their social profile. Although there were some significant variations, a series of salient characteristics have persisted over time. The typical Portuguese minister is a male in his midforties, of middle-class origin and predominantly urban-born, highly educated and with a state servant background. The two main occupational contingents have been university professors - except for the First Republic (1910-26) - and the military, the latter having only recently been eclipsed with the consolidation of contemporary democracy. As regards career pathways, the most striking feature is the secular trend for the declining role of parliamentary experience, which the democratic regime did not clearly reverse. In this period, a technocratic background rather than political experience has been indeed the privileged credential for a significant proportion of ministers.