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February 25, 2013, Monday

Neither working nor studying

Tomorrow the World Bank publishes its “World Development Report 2013: Jobs” on the state of world's labor markets and the challenges countries are facing on this front. The report will be discussed at Bahçeşehir University. Being one of the discussants of this report, I carefully examined most of its 400 pages containing very comprehensive information and useful insights on the problems of employment and unemployment. The main contribution of the report, I think, shows quite well how these problems vary tremendously in nature from one country to another according to their level of economic development, their natural as well as human resource potential and their demographic dynamics.

Obviously, I cannot even briefly summarize this voluminous study in my column, but I can focus on the important and dramatic problem of the young who are “neither working nor studying,” as mentioned in the report. You might think we are talking about unemployment among youth, but this is not the case at all. The young people looking for jobs, and considered as unemployed for this reason, constitute only a small part of youth who are neither working nor studying. Here lies the disconcerting aspect of the problem. According to the World Bank's estimate, there are actually 621 million young people (aged between 15 and 24) in the world belonging to this group excluded both from school and from productive activities. As you can imagine, young women constitute a large majority of this share, but the number of young men should not be underestimated, either.

I should confess that my choice of discussing the problem of excluded youth among many others was not fortuitous. This problem was the subject of much earlier research of Betam (Bahçeşehir University for Economic and Social Research). Almost five years ago (May 2008) we published a research brief titled, “Turkey is losing its young generation” (Betam Research Brief, 08/07) and we again looked at the related figures two-and-a-half years later (Betam Research Brief, “The young lack human capital,” 10/91). Let me first summarize the results of these two research briefs, and then I will try to situate Turkey in the world regarding this issue using the World Bank report's information.

According to TurkStat's Household Surveys data, approximately 2 million young people (1.4 million females and 600,000 males) out of 6.5 million aged between 15 and 19 were neither in school nor working in 2006. Three years later, in 2009, the figures revealed a sizable improvement in the situation as the number of this unemployed youth decreased to roughly 1.2 million (900,000 females and 300,000 males). Out of the 300,000 jobless men, one out of three said that he had searched for a job but could not find one or he thought that there were no jobs suitable for him. This is not surprising since these young people are poorly educated and without skills.


The majority of the remaining two-thirds give other reasons like “personal or family reasons,” “illness or disability” or “other.” As for the 900,000 young women, 700,000 (78 percent) of them stated that they are occupied by household chores. We can guess that a very large majority of them are waiting to get married, and very probably the majority of them will never participate in a productive activity during their lives.

How is Turkey situated in the world vis-à-vis this problem of jobless youth? The World Bank highlights the cases of a few countries in the report, but this is quite enough to get an idea of the issue. The countries used as examples are: Brazil, Chile, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Turkey and Ukraine. Turkey has the highest share (about 20 percent) of jobless young men aged 15-24 among these countries.

I must admit I was not expecting such a result. As for the share of young females who are neither working nor at school, it is more than 50 percent in Pakistan and Turkey. India ranks third followed by Indonesia, where the share of jobless young women equals approximately 35 percent. The shares in the two representatives of Latin America, Chile and Brazil, are around 20 percent. Then Ukraine, Ghana and Tanzania follow with lower share percentages.

Considering these countries are at the top of this infamous list, we can easily assert that the problem of jobless young females have deep roots in cultural and social conservatism. Admittedly, if Turkey wants to accelerate the participation of women in the workforce, it faces a serious challenge here.

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