Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch out their arms out to collect chocolates and milk distributed by Bangladeshi men at Taiy Khali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sept. 21, 2017.
Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, stretch out their arms out to collect chocolates and milk distributed by Bangladeshi men at Taiy Khali refugee camp, Bangladesh, Sept. 21, 2017.

People younger than 30 make up half the world's population, but their well-being has improved by only 2 percent since 2014, says the 2017 Global Youth Wellbeing Index.

"Two percent is pathetic," said Ritu Sharma, director of the Global Center for Gender and Youth at the International Youth Foundation in Baltimore.

At this rate, she said, it would take well over a century to improve the well-being of youths by 100 percent.

"Young people make up half the globe, we cannot take 150 years," she said.

The index ranks 30 countries that are home to approximately 70 percent of youths worldwide. Among people ages 15 to 29 years old who were surveyed, the index found:

  • 11 percent experience high levels of well-being.
  • The highest levels of well-being are in education; however, too few are getting what they need to be successful in work and life.
  • Two in three youths said their government does not care about their wants and needs.
  • 74 percent feel they will get the kind of job they want.
  • 65 percent feel they will be make as much money as they want.
  • Almost 90 percent of youth surveyed agreed that "women should have all the same rights as men."
  • Youths rely on phones for information; less than half have access to internet at home.
  • Millions of young people, most of them men, used smoking or chewing tobacco products.
  • Road-related accidents remain the leading cause of death for youths worldwide.
  • Suicide rates are consistently high.

"As the global community works toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, too many young people remain disconnected from vital skills, economic opportunities, local communities, and national governments," states the index's executive summary.

It identifies where "investments need to be made now to ensure that this current generation of youth can thrive in a world with increasing challenges."

The Global Youth Wellbeing Index uses 35 indicators to evaluate the state of young people ages 15 to 29 in each participating country. All the indicators fall under seven categories: gender equality, economic opportunity, education, health, safety and security, citizen participation, and information and communication technology.

The 30 participating countries are chosen on population, data availability, income level and regional distribution. All data comes from internationally recognized organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization.

The index defines well-being as a "multidimensional concept that includes a person's physical and mental health, educational status, economic position, physical safety, access to freedoms, and ability to participate in civic life." Or, more simply, "the abundance or scarcity of opportunities available to an individual."

Global rankings

Sweden ranked first on the index with an overall score of 83. Runners up Australia and the United Kingdom scored 81 and 80, respectively. Germany came in fourth with a score of 78, and the United States was fifth with a 73.

This index is not the first to collect global data solely on youths. The Commonwealth Secretariat's Youth Development Index surveys 183 countries using 18 indicators.

"We also include youth opinion," said Sharma, "Not just hard data."

"I'm not surprised," said Ruby Vishnick, a third-year journalism student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. This London native credits Britain's welfare state as to why they scored so high.

"People are not scared to go to the doctor, because it's free and it's accessible," she said. "And not only is it easy to book an appointment, you can also walk into any clinic, no questions asked." 

Yi Jin Kim, a student from Seoul, also wasn't surprised to hear her country ranked on the index's top 10.

"I personally think the level of education in South Korea is a big factor," she said. Korean students typically go directly to university upon graduating high school.

"This is because our parents' generation really cares about their kids' education, and Korean society is very competitive," she said. "Our parents' generation did not have enough educational opportunities, as Korea at that time was not economically developed at all."

Challenges for youths

More than half the youths who participated in the International Youth Foundation's Global Millennial Viewpoints, which is part of the 2017 Global Youth Wellbeing Index, think emotional challenges get in the way of school, career or life.

"I think what we're seeing now is that the world is way more stressful for young people than it was in the past," Sharma noted. Combined with sparse economic opportunity, feeling unsupported by their government, and inadequate mental health care, that stress can bring drastic results. "In many industrial countries, the suicide rates are consistently high."

Death by road accidents remains high. From 1990 to 2015, index countries reduced youth road-related fatalities by 21 percent. Middle-income countries accounted for 90 percent of traffic-related deaths.

The bottom five countries in the index were Vietnam, India, Uganda, Egypt and Nigeria.

The index is part of the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative founded by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the International Youth Foundation in Washington. 

Sharma said CSIS would like to see more indicators added to the index, but since categories must apply to all participating countries and not all countries collect the same data, some indicators will have to wait. With more research and surveys, more countries could participate and the index's analysis could be "even more robust."

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