Globe, Latin America

Latin America and the lost generations

Chile, Spain and Mexico lead the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) figures for having the highest number of young people who are neither in work nor in education. Among the associated problems are the greater difficulty in finding work, lower salaries and having a lower standard of living than their parents.



Radiografía de unas generaciones6Olga Fernández Baz


The most recent report from the OECD shows that Mexico, Chile, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Ireland and Italy are the countries with the highest percentage of young people between the age of 15 and 29 who are neither in work nor in education. They have come to be known as the Ninis. The figure for these countries is over 20% while the average of the OECD is just 16%.

Turkey leads the list with 34.6%, followed by Israel (27.6%), Mexico (24.7%), Spain (24.4%) and Chile (23.7%). These countries have also been in this situation for the longest average time. In the case of Turkey it is 5.2 years, followed by Israel with 4.1 years and Mexico with 3.7 years.

The average for the whole OECD is 2.4 years. The principal reasons given for these high figures are the economic crisis and the high number of women who give up study, or work to devote themselves to their family.

The OECD draws attention to the social exclusion of these groups resulting from the difficulties they experience in entering an ever more highly-qualified labour market.

Los ninis aceraAustria, Iceland, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden are at the bottom of the table with the lowest figures of below 10% for youngsters who are neither in work nor in education.

The report, called Education at a Glance. OECD Indicators 2013 collects accurate information on the state of education in the 34 counties which make up the OECD as well as Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Economy and culture

One of the factors involved in the Nini increase is the economic crisis which these countries have been suffering for several years.

Radiografía de unas generaciones8In the case of Spain, for example, there has been an increase of almost 8% since 2008 as a result of the inability of the labour market to take in qualified young people and the difficulty of those without qualifications – who gave up their studies in the years of the apparent property boom – to find work.

However, not all the increases can be explained by the effects of the crisis. In the case of Chile and Mexico, as well as Turkey and Israel, cultural factors play a part in the growth of these figures.

One of them being that the role of woman is more closely linked to the home and childcare, which would explain the high number of women who don’t start or who give up their studies and professions to take responsibility for the family.

Radiografía de unas generaciones11In fact, the highest percentage of Ninis are young women, a figure which, in some countries, such as Mexico, is up to 3 times higher than the figure for men (38% of women compared to 10.7% of men).

Another cultural factor cited in the study relates to the perception of the education system itself, to what degree work and study can be combined and how much education helps in gaining access to the labour market.

Marginalization and social exclusion

These reasons aside, nobody disputes the relationship between good levels of education and better chances of finding work, of achieving higher salaries and of reducing the male/female salary gap. As far as income is concerned, a person with a higher level of education may earn 40% more than someone with a basic level of education. In the case of Chile this salary difference can be as high as 160%.

Radiografía de unas generaciones4From the point of view of the individual, the extreme levels of unemployment facing these generations if the situation remains unresolved, has economic, social, psychological and cultural consequence which place them in positions of greater vulnerability and social marginalization.

On one hand, they are dependent on their parents for longer, and the impossibility of planning an independent life causes disillusion and disappointment. Frustration and marginalization can lead to them adopting alternative methods of socialization such as delinquency or radical politics.

In other cases, unemployment is seen as personal failure which leads to depression, social isolation, resignation and apathy.

The social cost

 As far as the countries are concerned, these drifting generations are a waste of resources and human capital which affect the social and economic development of the countries themselves.

Radiografía de unas generaciones7According to a 2012 study by the European Commission, in 2011 alone, Spain allocated 1,350 million Euros to this group in subsidies and social security payments, without taking into account the wasted public cost of training and education due to them not entering the labour market.

On top of this we have to add the indirect costs arising from their lower levels of consumption, and health and prison costs, and lower taxes paid as a result of their greater involvement in the underground economy.


(Translated by Jane Martin –

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