Global Report Highlights Challenges Facing Youths

More than 75 percent of young people worldwide experience low levels of well-being.

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About one-quarter of the world's young people are neither working nor studying, a new report finds.

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A large majority of the world's youth live in countries with lower levels of well-being, which were evaluated by education, health, economic opportunity and safety measures, according to a report published Thursday. 

A collaboration of organizations – the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide – evaluated the levels of youth well-being in 30 countries that represent nearly 70 percent of the world's population between the ages of 10 and 24. Through a combination of international evidence-based data and self-reported youth perspectives on well-being, the group found just 15 percent of youth are living in countries with higher levels of well-being. 

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"What we know, and what we've seen from experience is if and when [the talents and productivity] of a large youth population can be harnessed, it can be a catalyst for economic growth, prosperity and security," says Nicole Goldin director of the CSIS Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative, and principal author of the index. "At the same time, we've seen where young people have been excluded or left on sidelines, and feel don’t have stake in the game. We can see that unrest and undermined economic opportunity."

It's an important issue to understand simply due to the state of changing demographics, Goldin says.

Today's youth – those between 10 and 24 – represent the largest generation in human history, and about one-fourth of the entire world population, says Bill Reese, president and chief executive officer of the International Youth Foundation. Yet there appears to still be room for improvement to ensure a better quality of life, the report found: Nearly half of the world's youth are unemployed, about 7 percent are still illiterate and more than 40 percent of new HIV/AIDS infections occur among that age group. 

"We’re saying maybe the next generation won’t be better off than the last generation," Reese says. "It's a cohort so big that we need to know more about it."

Chris Nassetta, president and chief executive officer of Hilton Worldwide, says the lack of opportunities for young people presents serious economic and societal issues.

In an increasingly global economy, Nassetta says companies that are expanding to other parts of the globe have a vested interest in making sure young people are prepared to enter the workforce and succeed. 

"This generation has the risk of becoming a lost generation without sight of something better. They don't have the skills – the life or work skills – that are necessary to play a role in society of the type they should," Nassetta says. "If you have the 75 million [unemployed youths] in the workforce and contributing … the economic impact of that could be massive.

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Still, all of the countries had room for improvement in some areas. While the U.S. ranks sixth overall, for example, the country falls near the bottom – 20th – in terms of citizen participation, and toward the top – eighth – for safety and security. Certain other countries – such as Colombia, India, South Africa and Tanzania – performed particularly well in terms of youth citizen participation, but were lower ranked for safety.

"There are lessons to be taken, there are successes to be seen in what might be otherwise more difficult environments," Goldin says. "Also looking to global south for successes and finding what we can learn there is also an important and interesting finding."

On the other hand, America was ranked first overall for economic opportunity for young people, which Goldin says may be surprising to some people.

Another perhaps unexpected outcome was the U.S.' high rank in terms of education. At third of 30 countries, Goldin says the U.S. scored above average on nearly all education indicators – youth literacy, public spending on education, education satisfaction, secondary school enrollment, postsecondary enrollment and what the index calls "school life expectancy," or the expectancy that a student will continue from primary school through college.

Goldin says many times, young people in different countries also have perspectives that are out of line with what the data-driven realities might suggest. Young people in America, for example, had a much more negative outlook on the state of economic opportunity, despite the country being ranked first.

It's important to understand those distinctions, Nassetta says, because they can influence individuals' behaviors and drive different outcomes.

"Perception becomes reality," Nassetta says. "The fact that youth feel a certain way in different regions, over long period of time can have a dramatic impact on the outcome. It's an interesting overlay on all of this."

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Overall, Reese says he hopes the index will serve as a conversation starter for governments, nonprofits, corporations and other donors to use to better direct their investments in a growing group of the world's population and future workforce. 

"We’re trying to find the ways to help countries improve prospects for young people," Reese says. "Can we use the index as a way to steer more strategic or tactical investments of public, private, donor and corporate investment? Where would they make the right or smarter investments to have outcomes that can provide kids more years in school, the opportunity to stay in school, to be healthy and remain healthy?"