Youth Research & Knowledge

Tracking the evolving landscape of youth policy

Published on
Researched and written by Ole Siever and Kimberly Schwabe.

Ten years have passed since the publication of our last substantive release of youth policy fact sheets. In the interim, the global landscape has witnessed a myriad of developments, positive and negative, often with direct and significant impacts on young people's livelihoods.

The fundamental purpose of youth policy, we believe, is to reflect those realities — through evidence-based priorities, comprehensive legislative frameworks, measurable indicators, and the allocation of sufficient financial resources. However, our research shows that the alignment of youth policies with these—globally agreed—principles has considerable room for improvement.

By aggregating and summarising publicly available information for more than 190 countries, our fact sheets provide an overview of the current status quo of national youth policies and the structures supporting them for each country.

Europe is the first region for which we are publishing updated fact sheets. This initial release covers 44 countries, boasting a combined population of over 780 million inhabitants. Below we present a summary of our most important findings. We invite you to delve into the details and enjoy the read!

Youth policy in Europe is maturing

Since our last review in 2014, the number of European countries with a dedicated national youth policy, strategy, or plan increased from 29 to 32 in 2023; this comprises 72.7% of all 44 countries. Six countries (13.6%) do not currently have a national youth policy in force, and four countries (9.1%) are in (re-)drafting processes. In two countries (4.5%), the situation is unclear.

A thread we have seen across the continent is a tendency to allow policies to lapse without introducing a successor right away.

Gaps of one to two years, and occasionally even longer, between policy iterations are not uncommon. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly contributed to this phenomenon. As governments were grappling with this crisis, some more successfully than others, youth priorities were often neglected or seemingly forgotten completely. This practice is ironic in light of the fact that young people were faced with some of the harshest effects of the pandemic. While the practical effects of these policy lapses are not clear, it is a trend that should be watched closely moving forward.

Budgets remain a difficult topic to unravel

Many national youth policies are opaque when it comes to their financial backing. In twelve instances, despite extensive research efforts, we were unable to identify any budget allocated directly to items specified within the respective policy documents.

The absence of clearly defined and identifiable budgets does not necessarily mean that those policies are all talk and no action. It is not uncommon for policies to be cross-financed through budgets from various entities and/or programmes. Nevertheless, this intricate interweaving of funds makes it challenging to gain a clear overview of the financial underpinning of youth policies, let alone to compare budgets of different countries or effectively track developments over time. That we were unable to find any budgetary information on youth policy in more than a fourth of all countries reflects a concerning lack of transparency and accountability that is still prevalent when it comes to governmental budgets.

Youth work merits more recognition in Europe

Example of the new youth work section in our fact sheets, here for Austria

In our latest round of fact sheets, we are introducing a new section on youth work, examining how it is recognised by legislation, its structural frameworks, and the resources and support it receives. Obtaining up-to-date and detailed information on this topic posed difficulties in many countries.

Nonetheless, our examination across Europe does point to a critical finding: the official recognition of youth work has substantial room for improvement.

In 12 out of 44 countries, constituting more than a quarter at 27%, no mechanism exists — whether formal or informal; legislative or educational — that recognises youth work as a profession.

Recognition of youth work as a profession is an essential step in supporting the sector as a whole. Given the enormous impact the pandemic has had on the European youth work sector, it is more than time for governments to step up and provide youth workers with the support they need to succeed. The significance of such support cannot be overstated, particularly in acknowledging the crucial role youth workers play in assisting the most disadvantaged young people in society.

European youth unemployment levels maintain a strong North-South divide

The research process for our fact sheets involves the analysis of contextual data on the situation of young people in each country, including data on youth unemployment from the International Labour Organisation as well as regional organisation, in this case the European Statistical Office Eurostat.

Youth unemployment is a particularly critical issue: A young person’s initial foray into the labour market carries profound implications for future career trajectories and overall personal development. Youth unemployment levels in Europe range from 5.8% in Germany to 34.9% in North Macedonia. Overall, levels are higher in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe — with the exception of Sweden and Estonia, which both see rates above 20%.

The image shows a world map of youth unemployment by the World Bank, based on data of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
World map of youth unemployment rates in 2022. Source: World Bank, based on ILO data.

Youth unemployment cannot be discussed without recognising the massive upheaval in global labour markets due to the Covid-19 crisis, with young workers bearing a disproportionate brunt of the impact across all regions and income brackets. In 2020, this led to an alarming employment loss of 8.7% for young people worldwide, far surpassing the 3.7% decrease among adults. Although the worst of the pandemic is over, young people remain vulnerable, and the number of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) is higher than before the crisis in both absolute and relative terms.

What’s Next?

We will be gradually updating our fact sheets for the remaining ~150 countries, with Southern and Eastern Africa coming next. As we gain an increasingly global overview, we look forward to providing further meaningful contributions to the ongoing dialogue on the state of youth policy worldwide. We also very much welcome your input and ideas, and are easiest to reach through Please also reach out if you believe you have found an error in a fact sheet. For now, thank you for reading and have fun exploring our updated fact sheets!


  • February 27, 2024 » Changed percentages from originally rounded figures to the more precise current version, which includes one significant figure after the decimal point.