Half of the world’s population is now under the age of 25, and 1.8 billion people are between the ages of 10 and 25. This is the largest youth generation ever to exist. Yet few well-being measures and metrics focus specifically on how this age group—the one that has fueled societal and governmental change around the globe in recent years—is faring and feeling about their lives.
The first Global Youth Wellbeing Index is an effort to provide baseline data so that countries can be compared and progress (or lack thereof) can be followed. At a time when nearly half of youth are unemployed or underemployed, this kind of tracking is more important than ever.
The Index, put together by the Center for Strategic International Studies, the International Youth Foundation and Hilton Worldwide, gauges 30 countries that represent about 70% of the world’s youth. It looks at six areas: citizen participation, economic opportunity, education, health, information and communications technology, and safety and security.
Overall, the Index report found that 85% of the youth represented in the 30 countries are experiencing "lower levels" of well-being than the average. Across the board, youth are strongest in health and weakest in economic opportunity. The results also show that well-being is subjective: Young people’s evaluation of their own well-being didn’t always align with the objective data.
Australia (score=0.752 out of 1) and then Sweden top the rankings; Nigeria, with a score of 0.375 out of 1, ranked the lowest of the 30. The top seven countries classified as "higher-income" by the World Bank, but income wasn’t always a predictor of rank. Russia (No. 25) and South Africa (No. 23) scored relatively low compared to their economic activity, showing that growth doesn’t always benefit a country’s entire population. Similarly, Vietnam (No. 11)—with strong policies—managed to outperform countries at similar income tiers.
The U.S., with 64 million youth—representing 20% of the country’s population—only came in sixth on the overall list, ranking first for economic opportunity, third for education and information technology access, but only eighth for safety, 12th for health and a poor 20th (just ahead of Vietnam) for citizen participation.
The index comes as the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015, and as the global community evaluates its progress and follow-up opportunities. The report’s authors call this a "pivotal" moment. "Youth must be at the forefront of that global agenda," they write. "The Index can help us make that case."
View the full interactive map here to dive deeper into the data.
[Image: Youth protest, Milan via Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock]