Youth

7 December 2021

Youth is the term used to describe the period between childhood and adulthoodRead more

Youth is the term used to describe the period between childhood and adulthood. While this may be a fluid definition, it is also used in policy terms to refer to specific age groups. Providing a good environment for young people to grow up, learn and work is a key goal for Europe and for Eurofound – but one that faces particular challenges. Young people have long been an important focus of policy at EU level and this is particularly true today. 

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EU context

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Youth employment and issues affecting young people remain high on the EU’s policy agenda and there is strong concern that young people will be among the main victims of the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.Read more

Youth employment and issues affecting young people remain high on the EU’s policy agenda and there is strong concern that young people will be among the main victims of the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Having already paid the highest toll of the previous recession, to avoid history repeating itself the European Commission has proposed a reinforced Youth Guarantee as a concrete policy instrument to tackle the employment and social consequences of COVID-19. This aims to ensure that all young people under 30 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

This initiative will build on previous actions carried out at European level. The Commission’s 2016 Communication ‘Investing in Europe's Youth’ aimed to support young people in the form of a Youth Package. The package supports better opportunities to access employment, via the Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative launched in 2013, better opportunities through education and training, as well as better opportunities for solidarity, learning mobility and participation.

As part of this effort, the latest EU Youth Strategy (2019–2027), adopted on 26 November 2018, sets out the framework for cooperation with Member States on their youth policies. Activities are grouped into three main areas of action, around the words ‘Engage’, ‘Connect’ and ‘Empower’.

In January 2020, the Commission presented its Communication 'A strong social Europe for just transitions'. This prepared the way for an Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, which reiterates the EU’s commitment to the Youth Guarantee.

As it emerged that young people were among the most vulnerable to the severe social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive measures, on 1 July 2020 the Commission launched a Youth Employment Support package structured around four strands to provide a ‘bridge to jobs’ for the next generation. The Commission put forward a proposal for a Council Recommendation on ‘A Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee’, to replace the 2013 Recommendation. This initiative links in with the needs of companies to provide the skills needed, particularly for the green and digital transitions. It extends the age range covered by the Youth Guarantee from age 15–24 to 15–29. The package also includes a proposal on vocational education and training, a renewed impetus for apprenticeships and additional measures to support youth employment. 

The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, proposed by the European Commission in March 2021 and followed by a declaration at the Porto Social Summit in May 2021, introduced new, ambitious targets for young people, such as reducing the rate of young people aged 15–29 who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) from 12.6% (2019) to 9% by 2030.

Eurofound’s work on youth issues links in with the Commission’s 2019–2024 priority on an economy that works for people and is highly relevant here.

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Research

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Image of Youth in the EU infographic - November 2021
Infographic 2021

Eurofound has carried out a large body of work on youth issues related to employment, quality of life and social cohesion. In light of the economic and social crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic, research continues to look at issues affecting young people in several topic areas, particularly employment and labour markets, living conditions and quality of life, as well as access to public services.

COVID-19 and its impact on young people

Eurofound’s unique e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, provides an insight into the impact of the pandemic on people's lives, including young people, with the aim of helping policymakers shape the response to this crisis. Carried out in several rounds, it allows for comparison of the challenges facing young people during the different stages of living through the pandemic.  

Building on this research, Eurofound has analysed the impact of COVID-19 on young people in the EU in terms of employment, their economic situation, social exclusion, mental well-being and trust in institutions. It also provides an overview of the policy measures put in place to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on young people. 

2008–2013 crisis and jobs

In the aftermath of the 2008–2013 crisis, EU unemployment soared to alarming levels, hitting 20% for those aged 15–29 and reaching even higher levels in individual Member States. With the help of the Young Guarantee and other measures, youth unemployment has recovered in recent years, finally reaching pre-crisis levels in 2019. But the questions remain as to where the jobs are and how young people can be helped, particularly those who are disengaged from the labour market over the long term. The reinforced Youth Guarantee will be crucial here in reacting to the COVID-19 crisis and in avoiding another sharp increase in youth unemployment. Eurofound's research provides a broad range of inputs to the development of youth policy, looking at:

  • long-term unemployed youth
  • start-up support for young people
  • youth entrepreneurship in Europe
  • mapping youth transitions in Europe
  • youth and work and policy pointers aimed at improving this aspect of life for young people
  • helping young workers during the crisis and the contributions of social partners and public authorities
  • experiences of the Youth Guarantee in Finland and Sweden
  • young people not in employment, education or training.

The focus of research has recently been adapted to examine the effects of COVID-19 on young people in Europe.

NEETs and exclusion

Alongside high unemployment, since 2008 the Member States have been dealing with the disproportionate impact of the recession on young people under 30, even those with higher levels of education. The number of those aged 15–29 who were not in employment, education or training (NEET) rose rapidly after 2008, but had been declining again since 2014, returning to pre-crisis levels by 2018. Yet the rates remained high in some Member States, particularly Italy and Greece. Eurofound seeks to understand the economic and social consequences of youth disengagement from the labour market and education.

Research on the impact of COVID-19 on young people has focused on the economic and social situation of young people at the onset of the pandemic, particularly NEETs. It describes the labour market participation of young people during the period 2007–2020 and discusses the characteristics and diversity of NEETs.

Some young people face particular difficulties in accessing employment: for example, those who have a disability or other health problem are 40% more likely of becoming NEET than others. A policy of active inclusion is seen as the most appropriate for addressing these difficulties. Eurofound has analysed active inclusion policy for young people with disabilities or health problems in 11 EU Member States.

Youth dimension in Eurofound’s surveys

The youth dimension is relevant across many areas of Eurofound research, including its surveys.

The Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey, carried out in several rounds in 2020 and 2021, explores the impact of the pandemic across age groups. Topics affecting young people include job loss and insecurity, mental well-being, social exclusion and optimism about the future, experiences with online education, trust in institutions and access to public services. The findings show that young people are again being hard-hit by the social and economic impacts of yet another crisis.   

The European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) 2016 found important differences between age groups in relation to quality of life, social inclusion, the quality of society and access to public services. EQLS data have also been used to compile a policy brief on the social situation of young people in Europe.

The European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) 2010 revealed that some aspects of the working conditions of young workers (under 25) differ considerably from those of older workers. Data from the EWCS 2015 have shown that the skills gap between younger and older workers is gradually closing.

Eurofound’s COVID-19 survey used various questions from the EQLS and EWCS, adapting them where necessary for the purpose of the survey.

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Key outputs over the years

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Key messages

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  • Young people have suffered major economic and social consequences as a result of spiralling unemployment since 2008. The economic loss to the EU of having such large numbers of young people outside the labour market and education is estimated at above €153 billion a year.
  • The 2008–2013 crisis highlighted how young people are more vulnerable to economic recession than other age groups. Youth unemployment soared above 40% in many EU countries, and the share of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) peaked at a historical high of 16% of the entire EU population aged 15–29. 
  • Despite EU and Member State policy efforts to support young people in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, young people were also hardest hit by job loss during the COVID-19 crisis. Overrepresented in the sectors most impacted by pandemic restrictions and more likely to work on temporary contracts or part time, 12% of 18-to 29-year-olds who responded to at least two rounds of the Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey reported that they had lost their job, with 12% of students also facing unemployment.
  • Unemployed or inactive young people were most likely to experience housing insecurity than other groups during the pandemic (17% in spring 2021) and reported difficulty making ends meet (43%), as well as having no savings (39%); however, over half of young people reported living with their parents, which provided some security. Unless young people can participate actively in education and the labour market there is a high risk of their long-term disengagement with serious implications for their and society’s future.
  • The COVID-19 crisis had a disproportionate impact on young people’s life satisfaction and mental well-being compared to older groups. This improved between spring and summer 2020 when lockdowns eased but dropped to its lowest point in spring 2021 when restrictions and school closures returned, contributing to a decrease in life satisfaction and mental well-being where nearly two-thirds of young people were at risk of depression.
  • Young people’s trust in institutions overall also remained higher than other groups despite being hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis in terms of mental health and employment. It will be important for policymakers to build on this social capital and ensure investment in youth remains at the top of the EU policy agenda.
  • A wide range of measures were introduced to support young people during the pandemic. These included the reinforced European Youth Guarantee, national initiatives to keep young people in education, and measures to reduce barriers to existing financial support and social protection specifically for young people; however, many of these policy responses were temporary. To ensure greater resilience in future crises, it will be crucial for policymakers to prioritise long-term measures for young people, such as permanent improvements in access to work and apprenticeships and measures to increase job security.
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Publications & data

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The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

  • Publications (152)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work

Data

A selection of related data on this topic are linked below. 

Ongoing work

Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.