Youth Research & Knowledge

This year’s big moment for youth data: the 2016 edition of the Youth Development Index

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The 2016 Youth Development Index - now the only global index exploring the specific situation for children and young people - has launched at Australia House in London. While 142 countries improved their scores, the index sees big changes in the global rankings - including in the top spots - and offers a renewed challenge to policy-makers to ensure they continually respond to young people’s needs. The 2016 YDI is a tough reminder: when it comes to youth, no country can afford to be complacent.

What is the YDI?

The Youth Development Index (YDI) was created by the Commonwealth of Nations - an inter-governmental association of primarily former British colonies that represents 2.2 billion people. The definition for youth development used in the YDI Results Report is of,

enhancing the status of young people, empowering them to build on their competencies and capabilities for life. It will enable them to contribute and benefit from a politically stable, economically viable, and legally supportive environment, ensuring their full participation as active citizens in their countries.

The YDI is a composite index and uses existing data from international sources such as World Bank, UNDP, ILO, and Gallup World Poll. Originally launched in 2013, the YDI is produced by the Youth Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat, with the Institute for Economics & Peace as the main data partner. For the latest edition, we - Youth Policy Labs - provided data for the youth policies indicator, as well as contributed three qualitative chapters to the final report on youth development, youth participation, and peace and conflict.

State of world's #youthdevelopment: new #Commonwealth #YDI underscores urgent need to invest in young:

— The Commonwealth (@commonwealthsec) October 21, 2016

The YDI has five domains that measure levels of Education, Health and Wellbeing, Employment and Opportunity, Political Participation and Civic Participation for young people. The 2016 edition of the YDI uses 18 indicators compared to 15 in 2013. This year’s edition adds six new indicators: Digital Natives; Mental disorder rate; Alcohol Use; Score of Global Wellbeing Index; Adolescent Fertility Rate; Existence of account at a financial institution. It further removes three from the previous version: Education as a Percentage of GDP and Teenage Pregnancy Rates, and Tobacco use. The YDI has increased the number of countries covered by the data, from 170 in 2013 to 183 countries - including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.

Snapshot look at results

Based on statistical modeling, each country is given an overall YDI score of between 0.00-1.00, with scores closer to 1.00 indicating greater levels of youth development. In the 2013 edition of the YDI, Australia (0.856), Canada (0.820) and South Korea (0.809) topped the global list. At the bottom of the index were Cote D’Ivoire (0.229), Central African Republic (0.228) and ranking last, the Democratic Republic of Congo (0.173). The 2013 YDI Final Report is available for comparison.

The top 10 ranked countries on the 2016 YDI.

The 2016 edition sees considerable change. Australia falls from its top position to 3rd, Canada from 2nd to 14th, and South Korea to 18th. This year’s top performing countries for youth development are Germany (0.894) and Denmark (0.865), with Switzerland (0.837) and the United Kingdom (0.837) ranking joint 4th. From the top 10, eight of the countries are from Europe. Three countries - South Korea, the United States and Canada - all fall out of the top 10 in the new edition, while Japan clings on, ranking 10th.

At the bottom of the YDI, sadly, the same countries are seen across both editions: Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Positively, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Burundi all increase their ranking - moving away from the countries that are least conducive to youth development. Troublingly, countries that perform weakest on the YDI are all in sub-Saharan Africa, and all have a large youth population bulge - between 24-29% of the population are aged 15-29 years. As the chapter on peace and conflict highlights, the youth bulges can present unique policy opportunities - but only if effectively responded to.

The inequality between countries of Low and High youth development is stark - especially in the domains of Health & Wellbeing and Education. As the results report notes:

  • HIV Rates are ten times higher in Low YDI countries.
  • The Youth Mortality Rate is five times higher in Low YDI countries.
  • Enrolment in Secondary School is 2.5 times higher in Very High YDI countries.
  • Adolescent Fertility Rates are six times higher in Low YDI countries.

Inequality is a prominent challenge - and solving it, an aspiration - in the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 10 - “Reduce inequality within and among countries” - will need to adopt a youth focus to ensure that any decrease in inequality is felt and experienced by young people.

Comparison across the two versions

142 countries improved their scores between the two YDI editions, in the Caribbean, Central America, Asia-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, improvements are seen across all thematic areas, with the biggest average score increase seen in the areas of Political Participation and Civic Participation. Education and Health & Wellbeing - two major areas of policy challenge for young people - had the only modest improvement in global average score. The 2016 edition has full domain rankings - something the 2013 edition only had for Commonwealth countries - allowing comparison and analysis of all countries with thematic areas.

Many countries have improved their scores, and the ranking of countries has changed. While a positive improvement in score may indicate an improved situation for youth development, too much comparison between the versions should be treated with caution. The addition and replacement of indicators is one factor that make cross-comparison complex, with a change in the weighting of indicators and domains likely to have had an impact on rankings. A country may have increased their scores - a positive development - but may have dropped significantly in ranking.

A new addition to the YDI online platform is the ability to look at country and domain scores for each year since 2010. Using the same set of indicators, weighting and methodology, the YDI has been retrospectively created for the past six years and allows a more rigourous analysis of how a country has performed on youth development. While many will still want to compare rankings - only available in the 2013 and 2016 YDI reports - a fuller understanding of a country’s situation can be found using the data visualisation tool.

The Commonwealth Secretariat have taken on board feedback from the youth and development sector. Rightly, they have refined the methodology and widened the scope of the index. While gaps exist, which we’ll discuss below, the utility of the YDI going forward will be in the ability to compare and externally assess a country’s individual performance over time - and this will rely on indicators remaining constant across future versions.

Using the YDI: a tool for advocacy

The 2016 YDI ReportGlobal indices, such as the YDI, provide a snapshot into the situation for young people, and allow for country level assessments, becoming international benchmarks. Their comparability means that national governments can be motivated to improve their scores, with global level research and data influencing domestic public policy and programmes. For example, in Mexico, it is a specific government commitment to improve their score on the YDI in their national youth policy.

Through our technical assistance work with governments, parliaments and international agencies, we have used global indices as a lobbying tool and as a research strategy. While global indices can be useful, often policy-makers need explanation and support to understand the data, its implications and - crucially - what they can do about it. However, the scores and rankings can require subtlety and nuance. When a country scores poorly in a domain, such as Political Participation, it can be a hard thing to swallow. In some countries, political participation, fundamental freedoms and human rights remain taboo subjects. But if explained properly, it can spark interest - potentially if the policy area was not previously a priority. We have worked closely with one country that in 2013 scored significantly below the global averages in Political Participation and Civic Participation. This brought a difficult issue on to the table of policy-makers. In 2016, the same country has fallen in overall rank and score, but has improved in these two specific domains.

The repeated problem: data, data, data.

Youth development indicators have been on the agenda of the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) and its Youth Ministers Meetings since 1998. It took 15 years to produce, but to see it continue to a second version for the YDI launch is a positive and encouraging development.

We have repeatedly noted the challenges of youth data. From our own experience of the Youth Policy Fact Sheets, we know the difficulty in finding and analysing reliable data that is comparable across countries, and that is a useful reflection of the reality for young people.

In a question from the audience at the London YDI launch, Baroness Scotland, the new-appointed Secretary General of the Commonwealth, was honest in how the YDI can improve in the future - notably to ensure the experiences of women and girls are monitored and tracked.

Honest critique from @ComSecYouth & @PScotlandCSG on #YDI: we must disaggregate data better, especially to track progress for women & girls.

— Youthpolicy (@youthpolicy) October 21, 2016

The lack of disaggregation is often a blind spot for youth - and especially for young women. As the SDGs have articulated: if overall improvements don’t improve for specific marginalised and vulnerable groups, then the SDGs will have failed. To hold governments accountable, we need better data to do it.

The lack of data explains some of the YDI’s notable omissions and limitations. For many young people, housing and the transition to independent living is a major challenge. The prevalence of mental health as well as sexual and reproductive health, are blind spots for the international community. We’d like to see a YDI that included access to health care, quality of education, and non-formal youth work opportunities as indicators. A long-term perspective would be insightful too, such as a focus on climate change or peace and security.

The inclusion of subjective measures would also be a significant improvement. We welcomed such inclusion in the Youth Wellbeing Index and it is an area where we frequently work with governments to provide a richer and more complex understanding of young people’s lives. The optimism or pessimism about a country from a youth perspective can be a game changer: on the YWI, the optimism of youth in Vietnam meant a big jump in ranking, versus the negative outlook of young people in Russia that results in a lower ranking than if it were only based on objective data measures.

Our collaborative research piece, “From Rhetoric to Action”, harnessed both quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure the voices of young people were not only central to the results, but also in the main actors, as youth researchers within the methodology.


At the London launch, the opening song - the Commonwealth anthem - was sung by a children’s choir that are too young to be covered by the data of the YDI. Their harmonies of life, liberty and peace - almost a sung rendition of the Commonwealth Charter - echoed in Australia House. In a week where the Commonwealth lost a member state, the power of these words must be matched by a real response to the 2016 YDI.

And this was the final message from Katherine Ellis: “Invest in youth!” This is also the repeated phrase of UN Youth Envoy, Ahmad Alhendawi; but with such strong networks, the Youth Division and the Commonwealth Secretariat are in a stronger position to cajole Commonwealth members into action.

The #YDI results are "modestly encouraging, but also worryingly inadequate." - Melissa, from @ComSecYouth, on the slow pace of improvement.

— Youthpolicy (@youthpolicy) October 21, 2016

That Australia, Canada and South Korea - the shining lights of the original index - have fallen from their top positions is a reminder that the enabling environment for youth development - the main area of our own research - is a continually evolving beast. It requires continual adaptation, innovation and understanding.

This year’s YDI is an improvement on the first edition and seeks to provide a broader picture, deeper understanding and a more rigorous analysis to the lives of young people. With the lapse of the YWI - with the index unlikely to move beyond the inaugural index and the web domain having been left to expire - the YDI now stands as the lone global youth index.

We’re pleased to see that, overall, youth development is improving in two-thirds of countries across the world. However, the inequality between countries is a major challenge and must be tackled as part of the 2030 Development Agenda. The YDI launch in London struck a balanced tone: While we celebrate the YDI as a useful and innovative baseline for youth development, the 2016 results do not reveal a major change in the way youth are invested in globally nor an improved environment for their development.

As contributors to the final report - as well as researchers on a major research piece that launched earlier this year - we see a changing approach to young people and youth issues. When the last YDI was launched in 2013, youth were high on the international agenda. However, after the SDGs, the emphasis is slipping. While we must continue to push for a national and global agenda for young people, the accompanying chapters in the YDI highlight the actions that civil society, youth organisations and individuals are taking to improve their communities and countries.

The Youth Development Index is a reminder of the effort it takes to ensure young people live in a place where they can thrive - where their needs are met, their challenges are overcome, and their aspirations are reached.

Team Credits:

Written and researched byAlex Farrow and edited by Cristina Bacalso.


26/10/2016 - An earlier version of this article the list of newly added indicators in the 2016 YDI was incorrect and used an earlier draft of the final report. This has been amended with the indicators listed in the published final report. Furthermore, an additional paragraph has been added introducing the data visualisation platform at

Disclosure of affiliation:

Youth Policy Labs was contracted to contribute qualitative research to the 2016 Youth Development Index Report under a short-term consultancy arrangement. The role was publicly advertised and subject to a competitive tendering process.