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Is youth unemployment worse in China, the EU or US?

Hey, they're busy bringing home the bacon?


Youth Unemployment in the OECD and China

August 31, 2023

By Pallavi Rao, Visual Capitalist




Charted: Youth Unemployment in the OECD and China

In nearly every country in the world, youth unemployment is much higher than general unemployment.


Unfortunately, the pandemic only exacerbated matters. During a crucial stretch of their early careers, young adults were locked out of entry-level jobs, destroying their ability to pick up work experience and potentially impacting their long-term earnings.


Now, nearly three years after COVID-19 first hit, young adults from some countries, like China, are struggling to find jobs. Using data from the OECD and the National Bureau of Statistics of China, we chart out the youth unemployment rate for 37 countries.


Ranked: Countries With the Highest Youth Unemployment

At the top of the list, Spain has the highest youth unemployment in the OECD, with nearly one in three young adults unable to find a job.


Unemployed people are those who report that they are without work, are available for work, and have taken active steps to find work in the last four weeks. The youth unemployment rate is calculated as a percentage of the youth labor force.

A mismatch between educational qualifications and the labor market has been cited as a significant reason for Spain’s lack of employed adults between the ages of 15–24.


Meanwhile, the country’s reliance on temporary contracts and dependence on seasonal sectors—like tourism—to generate jobs are some of the many reasons for its persistently high reported unemployment across demographic groups.


Listed below is the youth unemployment rate for all the OECD countries, and China, as of the second quarter of 2023.


Announced in June, China’s youth unemployment rate has climbed to 21.3%, a meteoric rise since May 2018, when it was below 10%. The Chinese economy is in the midst of a slowdown and its steadily climbing youth unemployment prompted the government to suspend age-specific unemployment data for the near future.


On the other side of the spectrum, in Japan, only 4.2% of young adults are without a job. A key reason for this is Japan’s shrinking and aging population that’s made for a tight labor market.


Youth Unemployment: Men vs Women

In most OECD countries, it’s common to see young men experiencing a higher unemployment rate compared to young women.



This contrasts with the trend across all age groups in the OECD, where the unemployment rate is 6.3% for women and 6% for men.


We visualize the countries in the dataset with the biggest gaps in youth unemployment below.


A bar chart showing the difference in youth unemployment rates between men and women for five countries in the OECD.


There is no singular reason that explains this common gap.


Across the OECD, more young women opt for tertiary education than young men, which may lead to better employment prospects. At the same time women are overrepresented in the health and social welfare sectors—both growing rapidly thanks to an aging population—that may make it easier for them to find jobs.


Why Does Tracking Youth Unemployment Matter?

Aside from being an indicator of general opportunities within a country, youth unemployment is a key metric to track, because it can be a bellwether for future economic prospects.


High rates of youth unemployment also correlate to brain drain within a country, as young adults move elsewhere to find better jobs.


Finally, large increases in unemployed youth have historically led to the potential of civil unrest, which makes it a politically-charged metric to identify and monitor for governments.

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