Youth Employment and Politics

Try to imagine a world without young people - impossible. Young people are, after all, integral to families, communities and the future of societies. Now try to imagine a world where millions of young people struggle to fulfil their dreams, find decent work, build independent livelihoods, and establish themselves as respected members of society.

Youth employment and politics
Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Unfortunately, such a world exists and already surrounds us. Even today, after decades of investment in education, prolonged economic growth and remarkable advances in technology, young people in the developing and developed worlds, in the south and the north, face uncertain, hostile and sometimes violent futures.

With expertise in citizenship and participation, politics and economics, financial inclusion, employment and agriculture, IDS uses an interdisciplinary, critical development perspective to understand and help shape responses to this key global challenge.

Young people, politics and citizenship

Across the globe young people distrust formal political institutions and are marginalised from decision-making processes, even when processes concern them. Popular assumptions hold that especially unemployed and ‘idle’ youth are at risk of participating in violence. However, the majority of young people develop non-violent strategies to cope with adversity and are active citizens. IDS asks: 

  • How do young women and men engage in political life, and how do gender and power dynamics shape youth participation and citizenship?
  • Which forms of social and political actions do young people use to influence and challenge governance actors, and hold them to account? How do they use the arts, social media and other unconventional channels alongside formal participation?
  • How do young people respond to exclusion and insecurity, and under which conditions do young people mitigate violence and crime?

Agricultural transformation and youth employment

In Africa there is a strong policy narrative that suggests that agriculture and the related food industry offers the best hope for the millions of under- and unemployed rural youth. This puts emphasis on youth entrepreneurship and engagement with agricultural value chains. IDS researchers work with partners across projects to ask:

  • Where are the opportunities in agriculture and what young people can take advantage of them?
  • How will ongoing processes of agricultural commercialisation and rural transformation affect employment opportunities?
  • How do rural young people imagine their futures?

Youth and the labour market

In many countries, young people are better-educated than ever, and numerous initiatives aim to ensure they have better skills, knowledge, and entrepreneurial capacities. Yet many still struggle to find decent or productive work, showing that there are limits to approaches that are too focused only on improving what young people bring to the labour market, i.e. the supply-side of labour. Increasing the demand for young people's labour through efforts to make decent or productive work opportunities more plentiful and accessible are also needed, leading IDS research to ask:

  • What type of policies can increase the amount of decent or productive jobs available to youth?
  • What role, if any, is there for the informal sector to play in providing such jobs?
  • How are young people specifically affected by rigidities or discriminatory practices in labour markets?
  • What positive roles might initiatives like public works programmes or employment guarantee schemes play in addressing youth un- and underemployment?

Photo credit: Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)/Flickr

Matasa Fellows Network

An exciting initiative to support young African scholars engage their research with policy on youth employment in Africa. More details

Youth in Fragile Settings

This project aims to build an evidence base that maps the role young people – particularly young women – have played in contributing to processes that sought to or did address fragility as well as examine gaps and challenges with the ultimate aim of increasing the voice and participation of young people around the world. More details

View all Research Theme's publications

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PB137_FrontCover

Unlocking the Potential of Non-Farm Enterprises to Reduce Rural Unemployment in Ghana

IDS Policy Briefing 137 (2017)

The non-farm enterprise sector plays an important role in the rural economy in Ghana. It constitutes about 35 per cent of rural incomes and engages around 21.2 per cent of the national labour force. In rural areas it employs about 13.8 per cent. More details

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Improving Employment Opportunities for Formerly Displaced Youth in Northern Uganda

IDS Policy Briefing 140 (2017)

The national youth (persons between 18 and 30 years of age) unemployment rate in Uganda currently stands at 19.7 per cent, and a significant proportion are returned, formerly displaced youth, displaced as a result of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) civil war in the northern part of the country. More details

PB138_FrontCover

Addressing the Urban Youth Employment Challenge in Ethiopia

IDS Policy Briefing 138 (2017)

Urban youth employment is a fundamental challenge that will shape Ethiopia’s present and future development. In the coming two decades, the urban population is expected to triple from the current 19 per cent. More details

PB134_FrontCover

A New Framework for Diversified Work Opportunities for Kenyan Youth

IDS Policy Briefing 134 (2017)

As the number of educated unemployed youth in Kenya increases, most are responding to the unemployment challenge by diversifying their livelihood options in multiple ways that are unique to their abilities and circumstances. More details

PB136_FrontCover

Accelerating Progress towards Achieving Productive Youth Employment and Decent Work

IDS Policy Briefing 136 (2017)

Realising full, productive employment and decent work for all features prominently among the Sustainable Development Goals. In many developing countries, especially in Africa and South Asia, youth constitute nearly a third of the population. More details

PB131_FrontCover

Why Youth Aspirations and Family Circumstances Matter for Entrepreneurship Interventions

IDS Policy Briefing 131 (2017)

Over the last decade the Government of Tanzania has invested in entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and poverty. It has developed various national policies and guidelines alongside entrepreneurship programmes in partnership with development actors and financial institutions, particularly for youth from poor backgrounds. More details

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Creating Nigerian Graduate Entrepreneurs through Strengthened Mentorship Programmes

IDS Policy Briefing 139 (2017)

The success of attempts to promote entrepreneurship as a career choice among new graduates in Nigeria has been limited. More details

PB133_FrontCover

Strengthening Kenya’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund to Serve Young People

IDS Policy Briefing 133 (2017)

Kenya’s Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) was introduced to support self-employment and entrepreneurship, and to ultimately generate wealth and create jobs for young people. More details

PB135_FrontCover

Increasing Youth Participation in Livestock Production in Kenya

IDS Policy Briefing 135 (2017)

Agriculture is a primary source of employment in Kenya. Most employment takes the form of smallholder crop and livestock farming, either as a main or supplementary livelihood activity. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Young People’s Perspectives on Farming in Ghana: A Q Study

Food Security (2017)

An emerging orthodoxy suggests that agriculture is the key to addressing the youth employment challenge in Africa. The analysis that informs this orthodoxy identifies a number of persistent barriers to increased productivity; and the programmes that work to get young people engaged with agriculture make assumptions about the young people’s interests and behaviours. More details

ER216_FrontCover

Failing Young People? Addressing the Supply-side Bias and Individualisation in Youth Employment Programming

IDS Evidence Report 216 (2017)

International development actors increasingly focus on youth employment as a key development challenge. More details

This is the front cover to IDS Research Report 82, 'Young People and Agriculture in Africa: A Review of Research Evidence and EU Documentation'.

Young People and Agriculture in Africa: A Review of Research Evidence and EU Documentation

IDS Research Report 82 (2016)

This report presents the results of a desk-based study to assess the available research evidence in relation to African young people’s engagement with agriculture, and to analyse how this evidence is reflected in current European Union (EU) policy and programming in Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya, three of the 89 countries in which Alliance2015 members work. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Perspectives on Desirable Work: Findings from a Q Study with Students and Parents in Rural Ghana

The European Journal of Development Research (2016)

The perspectives of young people and parents are important to policy that seeks to address youth unemployment in Africa. A systematic understanding of these should help to avoid implementation failure caused by incompatible assumptions or world views, and increase the likelihood that policies promoted by officials will be effective. More details

ER81 Front Cover

Understanding ‘Urban Youth’ and the Challenges they face in Sub-Saharan Africa: Unemployment, Food Insecurity and Violent Crime

IDS Evidence Report 81 (2014)

Much of Africa is urbanising fast and its young population is projected to constitute the largest labour force in the world. While urbanisation can be linked closely with economic development, we also know that it is the least developed countries that have younger populations than the rest of the world. More details

IDS publications on international development research

Future Farmers: Youth Aspirations, Expectations and Life Choices

Young people constitute a high and increasing proportion of the African population, with around 70 percent of the continent’s total population currently under the age of 30. More details

Youth savings – it’s a family affair

22 Jun 2016
By Justin Flynn, Jim Sumberg

Africa’s structural challenges can’t be solved by “youth innovation”

17 Jun 2016
By Jim Sumberg, Philip Mader, Justin Flynn

Youth employment and imagined futures in rural Africa

16 Apr 2015
By Jim Sumberg, Justin Flynn, Nana Akua Anyidoho, Thomas Yeboah