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Global Youth Well-Being Index: "We need more opportunities for youth"

Ritu Sharma's picture
According to this index, only eight countries offer their youth high levels of well-being. (Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank)

The recently published International Youth Foundation’s Global Youth Well-being Index calls for urgent action to create more and better opportunities for the 1.8 billion young people ages 15 to 29 worldwide. This survey finds that too many young people remain "disconnected from vital skills, [and] economic opportunities," and that the job vacancies to fulfill their optimistic expectations about the future do not exist. According to the report, the 2030 global goals cannot be met without significantly increasing investments in young people, create new demand for labor, as well as preparing young people with the soft skills they need to compete. Here are four top findings from the report about job and economic opportunities for youth.
Watch our interview with Ritu Sharma, lead author of the report:

Well-being is improving, but too slowly

The Global Youth Well-being Index covers 30 countries and includes 35 indicators across seven domains: gender equality, economic opportunity, education, health, safety and security, citizen participation, and information and communication technology. Each of these domains aligns with at least one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to help measure and understand progress toward the 2030 global goals for young people and to recognize the many critical ways in which investments in young people advance the global development agenda.

According to this index, only eight countries offer their youth high levels of well-being. These nations —all eight are high income countries— are home to 135 million young people, representing only 11 percent of youth covered by the index. Using the same set of indicators as the 2014 report, well-being of youth in all Index countries improved by 2 percent: a positive sign, but the rate of change is not quick enough to make meaningfully impact for this current, largest generation of young people.

Educated, but not prepared

Across countries covered by the index, young people are performing well when it comes to education, likely because of sustained investments in education over the last 30 years. At the same time, a paucity of data makes it very difficult to consistently and accurately measure educational quality across all countries. High rates of youth unemployment and NEETs (youth not in employment, education, or training) even where jobs exist, as well as other findings, corroborate employers’ difficulty in filling available jobs. Current education systems are not adequately preparing young people for future opportunities.

Not in employment, education or training

Of the seven domains analyzed in the report, economic opportunity gets the lowest overall scores —with a 4.58 score out of 10, equivalent to an “F.” The single biggest challenge most countries face is the scarcity of new jobs for the millions of young people who enter the workforce every year.

While the average unemployment rate among countries surveyed has remained below 18 percent since 1991, some countries, such as Spain and South Africa, continue to contend with unemployment rates greater than 50 percent. Nevertheless, all regions except for Sub-Saharan Africa have significantly reduced the numbers of NEETs. Latin America has brought down its NEETs rate from 24 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2014, whereas in the Middle East and North Africa, the rate has dropped from 40 percent in 2003 to 25 percent in 2014. In contrast, youth NEETs in Sub- Saharan Africa swelled from 9 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2014.

Optimistic about the future

Young people remain overwhelmingly optimistic about their economic future. Seventy-four percent of youth surveyed across countries feel that they will be able to get the kind of job they want, and 65 percent feel that they will be able to make as much money as they want.

Among countries surveyed, there is an inverse correlation between GDP per capita and youth expectations for their economic prospects: The higher the GDP per capita, the less likely youth were to say that their future standard of living will be better than that of their parents. “Thus, in developing countries 87% of youth felt they have more ability to achieve their professional goals than their parents did, whereas in Europe, only 38% of youth say they will be able to make as much money as they want.”

The International Youth Foundation is one of the partners of Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE), a global coalition that aims to provide leadership and resources for catalytic action to increase the number of young people engaged in productive work.
Follow the World Bank Jobs Group on Twitter @wbg_jobs.