Where’s the Economic Opportunity for the World’s Youth: Findings from the Global Youth Wellbeing Index

Students attend a maths class in Bosso, Nigeria. Thirty Nigerian refugees are studying at the school in addition to 300 Niger children.

Students attend a math class in Bosso, Nigeria. Thirty Nigerian refugees are studying at the school in addition to 300 Niger children. Photo taken from UNHCR’s flickr photostream used under a creative commons license.

By Nicole Goldin

Economic opportunity is a critical driver of individual and family security, and national growth, development and social progress. Harnessing the capacity of youth in particular, as producers and consumers, can be a boon to both national and the global economy alike. Yet around the world, youth in developed and emerging economies continue to face significant barriers to fulfill their economic promise and prospects. Around the world, young people are up to 4 times more likely to be unemployed than the general working population, with global youth unemployment rising above 13%, up from 11.5 percent in 2007. Less than 40% of youth worldwide are banked.

The Global Youth Wellbeing Index, released in April by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Youth Foundation (IYF) with principal funding from Hilton Worldwide, economic opportunity was one of six domains and sub-indices included. The Index considers the state of youth in 30 countries around the world, which hold nearly 70 percent of the world’s youth population. Of the forty indicators that comprise the Index, seven make up the economic opportunity domain: GDP per capita; economic climate and competitiveness; youth lending from a financial institution; youth involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity; youth unemployment; youth not in education, employment, or training (NEET), and youths’ income and wealth expectation.

Top findings

Of the 6 domains, the 30-country average is lowest in economic opportunity. This is not necessarily surprising given the global youth un- and under-employment crisis and that young people were among the hardest hit by the recessions (but often overlooked).  At the same time, the Index finds a strong correlation between economic opportunity and overall levels of youth wellbeing. Countries that perform best in economic opportunity are generally those that perform best in theoverall ranking of youth wellbeing; the United States, Japan, Germany, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sweden, South Korea, United Kingdom, and China are the top 10 performers within the domain, eight of which place in the top ten countries in the overall rankings of youth wellbeing.

Young people in wealthy and developing nations are challenged by real and perceived constraints in employment opportunities in the formal sector, financial inclusion, and the general economic climate and future prospects. For example, the United States, which ranks first in the domain, has high GDP per capita, scores well in measurements of the general economic climate, has significantly higher levels of youth lending, and lower levels of youth unemployment and idle youth not in education, employment or training (NEET). Yet youth still express greater uncertainty about their economic future, perhaps indicative of the general social perception about their opportunity amidst the global financial crisis, housing concerns, and student debt. Significantly, youth in seven of the top 10 ranking countries in this domain, excluding Thailand, Vietnam, and China, hold pessimistic income and wealth expectations.

For the full post, continue reading at on IYF’s Youth Economic Opportunities Blog.

Dr. Nicole Goldin is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and was director of the Global Youth Wellbeing Index in partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF). Follow her on Twitter @nicolegoldin. 

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