Indicator A2. Transition from education to work: Where are today's youth?

Many young people leave education between the ages of 18 and 24. On average across OECD countries, almost half (47%) of 18-24 year-olds have left the education system. In Brazil, Colombia, Israel and New Zealand, more than 65% of these young adults are no longer in education, while the pattern is reversed in Greece, the Netherlands and Slovenia where two out of three young adults are still in education (Figure A2.1).

Among 25-29 year-olds, only 16% are still in education on average across OECD countries, and the share is less than 10% in Belgium, France, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic, South Africa and the Russian Federation. However, in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Israel, over 25% of 25-29 year-olds remain in education. Compulsory military service for both men and women of at least two years explain why the proportion of 18-24 year-olds in education in Israel is relatively low while the opposite is true among its 25-29 year-olds (OECD, 2020[1]).

Young adults no longer in education may be employed, unemployed or inactive. Among the 47% of young adults aged 18-24 years who are not in education, 70% are employed and 30% are inactive or unemployed. However, the proportion of young adults who are employed varies considerably from country to country. Among all 18-24 year-olds not in education, 80% or more are employed in Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. In other countries, young people have experienced more difficulty entering the labour market when they leave the education system. For instance, in Greece, Italy, Turkey and South Africa, less than half of 18-24 year-olds who are not in education are employed (Figure A2.1).

Young adults who have not found employment upon leaving education are often referred to as NEETs: young people neither employed nor in education or training. On average across OECD countries, 14.3% of 18-24 year-olds are NEET. In Estonia, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland the share of NEETs is below 10%, while it is 20% or more in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Greece, Italy, Mexico, and more than 30% in Brazil, South Africa and Turkey. In most countries, inactivity is more common than unemployment: on average across OECD countries, 8.6% of 18-24 year-olds are inactive NEETs and 5.7% are unemployed NEETs. However, in France, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain the share of unemployed NEETs exceeds that of inactive NEETs (Figure A2.1).

In 2019, the share of young adults neither employed nor in education or training was one of the lowest since 2000. On average across OECD countries, 15.2% of 20-24 year-olds were NEET, while a decade earlier in 2009 the share of NEETs was about 3 percentage points higher (18.7%). This trend decline is largely explained by the negative effects on youth employment of the 2008 financial crisis. 2009 was the first year after the onset of the financial and economic crisis in many countries, which explains why the share of NEETs increased significantly in 2009 going on to reach its peak in many countries in 2010-11. On average across OECD countries, the share of NEETs among 20-24 year-olds reached 19.2% in 2010 and gradually decreased each year after that date (Table A2.2 and (OECD, 2020[1])).

Among the countries with comparable data for both 2009 and 2019, the relative decrease was the largest in Latvia and Turkey where the share of NEETs among 20-24 year-olds fell by more than 10 percentage points. In a number of other countries including Chile, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, the share of NEETs still decreased by more than 5 percentage points over this period. In contrast, in a few countries including Brazil, Denmark, Greece and Italy, the share of NEETs increased between 2009 and 2019 (Figure A2.2).

Part of the decline in the share of NEETs over the past decade is due to a growing number of young people continuing their education. On average across OECD countries the percentage of 20-24 year-olds in education has increased from 42% in 2009 to 45% in 2019, while the increase exceeded 10 percentage points in some countries. This is the case in Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. Some of these countries have put policies in place to reduce early school leaving and/or increase access to tertiary education (OECD, 2018[2]). Further education comprises different types of programmes, including short-cycle vocational training combined with practical training to equip young adults with the necessary skills needed in the labour market, and higher educational programmes leading to bachelor’s, master’s or equivalent degrees (Figure A2.2).

In most countries, the fact that young people are staying in education longer has not just resulted in a decline in the proportion of NEETs between 2009 and 2019. Another direct consequence has been the decline in the share of young adults not in education and in employment. Among OECD countries with comparable data for 2009 and 2019, the decrease in the share of 20-24 year-olds not in education and in employment over this period was at least 5 percentage points in Australia, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal, and over 10 percentage points in Brazil, Greece and Spain. Some countries show the opposite trend: in Estonia, Hungary, New Zealand, Poland and Slovenia, the share of employed adults aged 20-24 not in education increased between 2009 and 2019 while the share of young adults in education has fallen over the same period (Table A2.2).

Various dimensions such as gender, age, educational attainment and migration status affect the risk of becoming NEET.

Young women are more likely to be NEET than young men. Across OECD countries, 15.4% of 18-24 year-old women are NEET while the share among men of the same age is slightly lower (13.2%). Although women are more likely to be NEET, the reasons are not the same as for men. Some 10.7% of young women are inactive and not in education, compared to only 8.6% of men, while only 4.8% of women are unemployed and not in education, compared to 6.6% of men (OECD, 2020[1]). The main reasons for inactivity among women are childcare responsibilities, while health and other factors are more prevalent among men (OECD, 2016[3]). When interpreting the figures for inactive NEETs, it should be noted that some are only temporarily inactive and may soon re-enter employment, education or training. Nevertheless, a small share may also have become discouraged and stopped looking for work because they believe that there are no job opportunities for them (Eurofound, 2016[4]).

In Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Mexico and Turkey, the gender gap in inactivity rates is at least 10 percentage points among 18-24 year-olds. Mexico and Turkey are the only two OECD countries where the gender gap is over 20 percentage points. In these two countries, as in many others, the overall high share of NEETs can mainly be attributed to the high share of inactive female NEETs (OECD, 2020[1]).

Young adults in their upper twenties are more likely to be NEET than their younger peers. This is particularly true for women. Among women, the share of inactive NEETs increases with age, while it is more or less stable among men. On average across OECD countries, among 18-24 year-olds, 10.4% of women and 6.5% of men are inactive NEETs, a gender gap of 4 percentage points. Among 25-29 year-olds the share increases to 22.4% for women and to 11.8% for men, a gender gap of more than 10 percentage points. At the same time, the differences in the share of unemployed NEETs by gender and age are small, with shares all at about 5-7% (OECD, 2020[1]).

More education reduces the risk of becoming NEET. Across OECD countries 10.7% of tertiary-educated young adults aged 25-29 are NEET, compared to 16.7% of those with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and 39.2% of those without upper secondary education. In other words, across OECD countries, young adults aged 25-29 without upper secondary education are four times more likely to be NEET than those with tertiary education. The situation is especially severe for 25-29 year-olds with below upper secondary education in the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa and Poland, where half or more of these young adults are NEET (OECD, 2020[1]).

Attaining at least upper secondary education considerably reduces the risk of becoming NEET. The positive impact of upper secondary attainment is especially great in Austria, Germany, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, and Switzerland. In all these countries, the share of NEETs among 25-29 year-olds with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education is about one-quarter the share among those with below upper secondary education (OECD, 2020[1]). All of these countries have a well-developed vocational education and training (VET) system at upper secondary level. VET programmes in Austria, Germany and Switzerland also have a strong work-based component, which generally offer the best labour-market outcomes to their graduates (see Indicators A3 and B7).

In most OECD and partner countries, foreign-born young adults are also more likely to be NEET. On average across OECD countries, 18% of foreign-born 15-29 year-olds are NEET, compared to 13% of their native-born peers. The differences are largest in Austria and Germany, where the percentage is about 25% among foreign-born 15-29 year-olds and below 10% among native-born 15-29 year-olds. Early arrival in the country can reduce the risk of being NEET. For instance, among foreign-born young adults who arrived in Germany at the age of 16 or older, one-third (32%) are NEET, compared with only 11% of those who arrived by the age of 15. This underlines the importance of education in helping young people acquire sufficient literacy skills to participate in society and other key skills required by the labour market. (OECD, 2018[5]).

Young adults are generally about 17-18 years old when they graduate from upper secondary education (see Table X1.1a). From there, they can pursue different pathways. Typically, some will continue education, mostly at the tertiary level, but also at the same level or in post-secondary non-tertiary programmes. Others leave education to seek employment or become inactive for various reasons. The use of data from the European Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) complemented by data from administrative sources and graduate or non-graduate surveys for non-EU-LFS countries allows a more in-depth analysis of the transition from school to work.

The share of NEETs by years since completing education is typically used to assess how smoothly young adults make the school-to-work transition. In 2018, one in seven (14%) young adults with an upper secondary education who completed their education up to two years earlier were NEET, on average in OECD countries. The share of NEETs falls at first following graduation from upper secondary education, but increases slightly in the longer run: 10% of those who graduated two to three years earlier are NEET, but this rises to 12% among those who graduated four to five years earlier (Figure A2.3).

The share of NEETs among recent upper secondary graduates varies considerably across countries. Among young adults who completed upper secondary education less than two years ago, the percentage of NEETs is less than 5% in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and New Zealand and exceeds 30% in Greece and Turkey (Figure A2.3).

In most countries, the percentage of NEETs decreases during the first years following graduation from upper secondary education. In Turkey, the share was 57% among graduates who graduated less than two years earlier, falling to 25% among those who graduated between two and three years earlier, a difference of 32 percentage points. Similarly, in Greece the difference between the two graduation cohorts is 21 percentage points. In Denmark, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland, even though the overall share of NEETs is lower, the difference between the two cohorts still exceeds 5 percentage points (Figure A2.3).

In many countries, the share of NEETs among upper secondary graduates tends to stabilise three or more years after leaving education. The difference in the share of NEETS between those who completed upper secondary education two to three years before and those who did so four to five years earlier is small in many countries. However, in some countries, the share of NEETs rises among those who graduated four to five years earlier. For instance, in Latvia the difference is 13 percentage points (8% of those who graduated two to three years ago and 21% of those who graduated earlier) while in Lithuania it is 6 percentage points (8% of the more recent cohort and 14% of the earlier one) (Figure A2.3).

In a few countries including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovenia and the United Kingdom, the share of NEETs increases steadily in the years after graduation from upper secondary. For instance in France, the share of NEETs is 12% of young adults with upper secondary attainment who completed education less than two years earlier, 15% of those who graduated two to three years earlier and 20% of those who graduated four to five years earlier (Figure A2.3).

There are various reasons which may explain the increase in the share of NEETs over time. One reason may be the role of active labour-market policies in the school-to-work transition. Many countries have adopted such policies to facilitate the transition from education to work. Programmes promoting initial work experience, such as employment subsidy programmes, may provide first-time work experience, but may not necessarily lead to permanent employment (Crépon and van den Berg, 2016[6]). Another reason may the higher risk for women of becoming NEET when starting a family. Care-giving and family responsibilities may force young women to abandon their jobs after some years of professional experience and to become inactive (OECD, 2016[3]).

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education attained by a person.

Employed, inactive and unemployed individuals: See Definitions section in Indicator A3.

Individuals in education are those who had received formal education and/or training in the regular educational system in the four weeks prior to being surveyed.

Levels of education: See the Reader’s Guide at the beginning of this publication for a presentation of all ISCED 2011 levels.

NEET: Neither employed nor in education or training.

Data from the national labour force surveys usually refer to the second quarter of studies, as this is the most relevant period for knowing if the young person is really studying or has left education for the labour force. This second quarter corresponds in most countries to the first three months of the calendar year, but in some countries to the second three months (i.e. April, May and June).

Education or training corresponds to formal education; therefore, someone not working but following non-formal studies is considered NEET.

Data on the education and labour-market status of recent graduates by years since graduates are from the EU-LFS for all countries participating in this survey. Different graduation cohorts have been combined (cross-cohort analysis) for the retrospective analysis of the school-to-work transitions over a period of five years following their graduation. The most important drawback of the data source is that it does not allow the changes in the education and labour force status to be tracked between the assessment points in time. The data from the EU-LFS have been complemented by data from administrative source and graduate or non-graduate surveys for non-EU-LFS countries. The recent graduate cohorts have been restricted to adults who were 15-34 years old at the time of graduation.

Please see the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018 (OECD, 2018[10]) for more information and Annex 3 for country-specific notes (https://doi.org/10.1787/69096873-en).

For information on the sources, see Indicator A1.

Data on subnational regions for selected indicators are available in the OECD Regional database (https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?datasetcode=REGION_EDUCAT).

References

[6] Crépon, B. and G. van den Berg (2016), “Active labor market policies”, Annual Review of Economics, Vol. 8/1, pp. 521-546, https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:anr:reveco:v:8:y:2016:p:521-546.

[4] Eurofound (2016), Exploring the diversity of NEETs, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, http://dx.doi.org/10.2806/62307.

[8] Hanushek, E. and L. Woessmann (2015), Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264234833-en.

[1] OECD (2020), Education at a Glance Database - Transition from education to work, http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?datasetcode=EAG_TRANS.

[5] OECD (2018), Education at a Glance 2018: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2018-en.

[2] OECD (2018), Education Policy Outlook 2018: Putting Student Learning at the Centre, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264301528-en.

[10] OECD (2018), OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264304444-en (accessed on 16 April 2020).

[7] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en.

[3] OECD (2016), Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264261488-en.

[9] OECD (2010), Pathways to Success: How Knowledge and Skills at Age 15 Shape Future Lives in Canada, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264081925-en.

Table A2.1 Percentage of 18-24 year-olds in education/not in education, by work status (2019)

Table A2.2 Trends in the percentage of young adults in education/not in education, by age group and work status (2009 and 2019)

Table A2.3 Young adults with upper-secondary education in education/not in education, employed or not, by years since graduation (2018)

StatLink: https://doi.org/10.1787/888934161976

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