An Overview Of Global Youth Development Index

Oct 13, 2021  •  15 min read


Nowadays, half of the population in the world are young people under the age of 30 (International Youth Foundation, 2017), 90% of those living in less developed countries (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016). Young generations bring new ideas and energy to their communities and contribute to changes and development. However, young people around the world still face considerable obstacles and challenges, such as inequality, gender, race, sexual orientation discrimination, unemployment, social exclusion, and lack of access to high-quality education (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016). Hence it is crucial to understand how the environment supports young people in their personal and professional development and what areas of their life are needed to be more protected, invested and improved. Therefore youth development and well-being of young people are the major areas of researches and interest of public and policy-makers (Youth Summit UN ECOSOC, UNESCO Youth Forums, The UNDP Youth Strategy, UN World Programme of Action for Youth, etc.). This essay aims to analyse and provide a critical review of the Global Youth Development Index 2016 in terms of the quality of chosen indicators, as well as the analytical underpinning and strengths and weaknesses of the index.

In 2016 Commonwealth Secretariat Youth Division prepared The Global Youth Development Index and Report, which aimed to provide an evidence-based overview of the condition of youth across the world, focusing on opportunities for their development. The index measures progress on youth development in 183 countries on five major domains, such as education, health and well-being, employment and opportunity, political participation and civic participation. The YDI uses the Commonwealth definition of youth as people between ages 15 and 29. Results show that there is an increase in the youth development rate, though it is very slow. While Russia, Eurasia and the MENA region have no progress in YDI scores between 2010 and 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Central America and the Caribbean, have the largest improvements in youth development. Despite the progress, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rates of youth development in the world. In contrast, North America and Europe have the highest youth development rates. The progress of youth development has been made in some domains more than in others, with the largest improvements in Civic and Political Participation and lowest in education. In any country, region and YDI category, there is an inequality in development, especially among women, poor, ethnic and sexual minorities, religious groups, and young people from rural areas. Between 2010 and 2015, there was deterioration at the global level for only two indicators: the drug abuse rate and the youth-to-adult unemployment ratio (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016).

Global Youth Development Index uses Sen`s and Nussbaum`s capability approach as a theoretical framework. This implies that the approach focuses on the opportunities and capabilities that an individual has and determines the aim of the index to ‘assess the extent to which countries provide effective preconditions for youth development, whereby policies are framed as part of a process of enlarging people’s choices and providing the freedoms essential to fulfil those capabilities and choices’ (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016). Accordingly, the definition of youth development is derived from the capability approach and understood as empowerment of young people to develop their competencies and capabilities for a better life and to foster their active participation in the economic, social, political and civic life of their communities (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2016).

It is widely agreed that human development is not about growing income but enhancing people’s opportunities for a better life and giving them a chance to be the key actors in their lives (Jahan, 2016). Nevertheless, there is still no definite globally recognised definition of human development (Kleine, 2010). The possible explanation for this might be the imperfection of theoretical underpinning. In fact, Sen’s approach has different interpretations, discussions and critical remarks in literature. While some scholars claim that the capability approach can still continue to be a core for human development discourse (Osmani, 2016), some others argue that the approach has limitations (Alkire, 2002), is not justified and does not suggest any clear measurable and plausible criterion of social justice (Pogge, 2002; Walby, 2012). As stated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2008), ‘what is badly defined is likely to be badly measured’.

According to Alkire et al. (2009), there is a lack of researches have been done to develop criteria for selecting indicators to monitor poverty, well-being or inequality. It is claimed that dimensions of human development should be a reason for action and valuable objectives for economic investments (Alkire et al., 2009). Similarly, OECD (2008) points out that if composite indicators are poorly constructed, there is a risk that policy-makers will be misled, and there will be a less public interest in the issues of human development. Thus, OECD (2008) develops a Handbook on Constructing Composite Indicators, which discusses such steps as developing a theoretical framework, selecting variables, imputation of missing data, multivariate analysis, normalisation of data, weighting and aggregation, robustness and sensitivity, de-constructing composite indicators by going back to details, links of composite indicators to other variables and measures, and presentation and dissemination of results.

It is always challenging to measure such multidimensional concepts like human development, especially in a global context. A lot of points are needed to be taken into consideration while choosing the indicators: whether they need to be universal or context-specific, individual or collective; the availability of data and its dynamics; qualitative or quantitative data, etc. (Narayan, 2005; Ibrahim & Alkire, 2007). It is mentioned in the report that the 18 indicators in the YDI were chosen on the basis of the quality, relevance, and global coverage of available data. The aim of the index is the first thing to be considered. As mentioned above, it is to assess to what extent the countries provide effective opportunities and draw the attention of policy-makers. The keywords here are ‘effective’ and ‘attention’. Let us have a close look at the dimensions and indicators used in this index and discuss if it reaches its goal in a thorough manner. While doing so, this essay focuses on the quality of indicators and their relevance, specifically in the youth cohort.

Education is the most important factor in youth development, which has primary links with employment and standard of living. To measure it, YDI uses three indicators: enrolment in secondary education, literacy rate and digital native rate. However, these three indicators are not enough to provide sufficient evidence. First of all, in addition to ‘enrolment in secondary education also might also be necessary to include ‘completion’, ‘attendance’ or ‘drop-out’ indicators. For example, a report on the impact of cash transfers by the Overseas Development Institute (2016) emphasises that enrolment in secondary education does not always mean its completion, and that is the reason researchers also collected data on school attendance. Researchers also studied the learning outcomes and provided data on test scores, which helped to reveal a more comprehensive understanding of education. Although it might be problematic to measure learning outcomes, ODI report shows its possibility. Secondly, such indicators as ‘knowledge of foreign languages might also be added, as a foreign language can open young people new opportunities. Finally, satisfaction with the quality of education must also be taken into consideration. For example, Global Youth Well-being Index 2017 uses secondary education completion and youth satisfaction with education as indicators of the Education domain. Interestingly, data revealed that 36% of low-income young people and 18% of high-income are dissatisfied with their education system.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set a greater sight on learning outcomes and secondary education. Goal 4 encourages global actors to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It emphasises the need for “relevant and effective learning outcomes” and “the right skills for employment, decent work, and entrepreneurship” (International Youth Foundation, 2017). However, the findings from the Global Youth Well-being Index 2017 indicate that nearly half of low-income students (48%) and 28 % of high-income youth also felt dissatisfied with opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, which are particularly helpful in connecting young people directly to jobs.
The main reason why young people are not satisfied with education is that it does not fulfil the needs of the rapidly changing economy and labour market and does not provide the transition from education to employment. The evidence shows that there is a mismatch of skills gained during education and required by the workforce. According to OECD (2017), there is a trend among the occupational structure of increasing high-skills/high-paying jobs in G20 countries on the one hand and the decrease of medium-routine jobs on the other. For example, in India medium-routine jobs decreased in 5,3%, in the US 9,5%, EU – 8,9%, and Japan – 4,5%. Though they lose popularity, formal education still predominantly supplies the labour market with medium-routine jobs.

The health and well-being of YDI were measured according to the following indicators: youth mortality rate, mental disorder rate, alcohol abuse rate, drug abuse rate, HIV rate, and score on the Global well-being index. But the participation of young people in sports is not taken into consideration. It is known that sports have a healing effect on both physicals (improving fitness and decreasing the risk of chronic diseases) and mental (building self-esteem and counteracting stress and depression) health of young people.
Health insurance is another important factor that is important to assess in the Health domain. For young people, lack of access to health insurance can create barriers to health care, leave them vulnerable and affect their expenses (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2014).
Finally, housing is another determinant of youth well-being. Many young adults cope with housing cost burdens by living in physically inadequate units or by “doubling up” with roommates or moving back with parents. Physically inadequate housing and crowding resulting from such living arrangements can cause health problems (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2014).

For the Employment and Opportunities domain, YDI uses indicators, such as NEET rate, youth unemployment ratio, adolescence fertility rate, and the existence of account at a financial institution. Youth entrepreneurship can also reduce youth unemployment and poverty and produce additional socio-economic outcomes. As noted by UNDP (2014), young entrepreneurs not only create their own work and possibly employ others but also gain experience, marketable skills, responsibility, self-esteem and linkages to local communities while contributing to overall social cohesion. Therefore, it might be useful to include into this domain a self-employment rate, start-up rates, or use Entrepreneurship Index.

It is stated in the report that civic and political participation domains are crucial. A special chapter in the report is devoted to Pushing for changes: Youth and Political Participation. At the same time, the problem of data constraints is especially seen in these two domains. YDI measures political participation according to the ‘existence of a national youth policy, ‘existence of voter education conducted nationally’, and ‘voiced opinion to official’. The authors claim that informal political participation (youth-led protests, social media campaigns, etc.) has become more popular rather than engagement in formal politics. However, it would also be interesting to learn about the presence of youth in politics in different countries. Unlike the YDI, Global Youth Well-being Index uses subjective data and asks the young people’s perceptions about their lives. For example, concerning political participation, they were asked if their governments care about their wants and needs.

Regarding the Civic Participation domain, there were two indicators used: ‘volunteered time’ and ‘helped a stranger. A number of active youth-led organisations, membership of youth in civil society organisations or clubs, and participation in cultural events might reveal more information on the civic engagement of young people. For instance, Australian Youth Development Index 2016 uses the proportion of youth who were involved in arts/cultural activities as an indicator for the Civic Participation domain
This study reviews the Global Youth Development Index 2016 in terms of its analytical underpinning, flaws and merits, and the quality of indicators. It is necessary to bear in mind that attempts to measure well-being and human development are made to draw the attention of policy-makers, NGOs, educational institutions, businesses and civil society organisations to contribute to reducing poverty and increasing well-being and social justice at all levels. Although this index focuses on the easiness and measurement of indicators, rather less attention has been paid to the specific problems and features of youth, which impede the comprehensive understanding of youth development. The usage of such composite and major indicators as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) provides a ground of optimism that YDI and HDI will also be widely accepted and developed by the time (Jahan, 2016).

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