Identifying key youth trends before, during and after the pandemic

Published on 11 February 2021

Image of Marjoke Oosterom

Marjoke Oosterom

Research Fellow

Covid-19 has disrupted the lives and education of young people globally. They are seeing their work opportunities diminish. Many young people living in fragile settings are witnessing increased state repression during lockdowns. Research by IDS and partners is helping to identify the key trends shaping the lives of young people in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, the possible implications of the pandemic, and how we can strengthen efforts to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19 – a pandemic that will largely be felt by the next generation. The research is being complemented by a public webinar series.

Multiple implications of Covid-19 on youth

Findings from the ILO assessment of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis were clear: the impacts on youth are systemic, deep and severe. The direct impacts on their (mental) health, education and employment opportunities, all of which will shape important life transitions, were underlined for the UK and globally.  All of these are known to have long-term consequences. Key areas of foci in our research community have been on the informal economy, which absorbs over half of the youth between the age of 14 and 24 in many countries, and the inequalities in coping with – and later on recovering from – all of these pandemic-related challenges.

Apart from the immediate effects of Covid-19, the lives of many young people have become harder because of political circumstances, with governments using lockdowns and informal measures to crackdown on civic space. Youth took part in the many local actions and support networks that were crucial for coping with lockdowns, but when actions challenged the state, it was met with brutal force in some places. Despite this, large numbers of young people have spoken out about peace and justice issues, from the mass protests in Nigeria against police brutality to the hundreds of young Namibians protesting against gender-based violence.

Understanding the histories and futures of youth

Of course the reality of swathes of youth in this world is that they experienced economic and political exclusion even before Covid-19 hit. The pandemic is reinforcing such inequalities. Longstanding patterns of vulnerability to risk based on gender and class, ethnic and religious identities, intersect with generation. Poorer and younger youth, migrant youth and young women are disproportionally affected by the pandemic. It is important that strategies for ‘building back better’ or ‘recovering better’ for the world’s youth population take the pre-existing inequalities and forms of exclusion into account.

Unless action is taken, young people globally will experience severe and lasting consequences of the pandemic. Policies and programmes about or relevant to youth must focus on the structural conditions of economies and aim for comprehensive transformation. How can economies be organised so the protect workers and not profits? Efforts to strengthen their civic and political engagement need to take into account the dynamics of political exclusion before and during Covid-19. Spaces for participation need to be expanded, while norms and patriarchy that inhibit youth engagement need to be addressed.

This Spring: webinar series on youth employment and politics

IDS is hosting a webinar series linked to its Strategic Research Initiative ‘Ensuring decent work and political inclusion for young people’, which is part of the 2020-25 IDS Strategy. IDS research undertaken within this strategic initiative contributes to new thinking on youth engagement and the links between youth employment and citizenship, including in fragile and conflict-affected settings. The webinar series will focus the themes of youth mobility, employment, rural livelihoods, politics, peace and security, and youth in humanitarian settings. The speakers will address both the ‘histories’ and ‘futures’ of youth by speaking to dynamics before and during the pandemic and making observations on its implication.

Presentations will be primarily focus on the sub-Sahara Africa and Middle-East and North Africa (MENA) regions. In line with our values on inclusiveness of voices and co-construction of knowledge, the webinar series will capture diverse perspectives. Speakers and discussants represent academia, civil society, governments and UN agencies. Researchers involved in the IDS Europe Engagement Initiative will also share insights. Together we aim to strengthen development thinking and practice for more effective interventions for ‘the Covid generation’  to tackle what is a universal development challenge.

We invite researchers, policy actors and civil society representatives that study, fund and implement youth policies and programmes to sign up for our webinars and join the debate.


About this opinion

Programmes and centres
European Engagement Initiative

Related content