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Development and the Next Generation

More than one in five of the world’s people are between the ages of twelve and twenty-four, and 1.3 billion of these young people live in developing countries. Today’s youth are more numerous than their predecessors, more educated, more mobile, and healthier. They have access to technology and information with which to harness global knowledge and see the lifestyles and values of their counterparts in faraway places. Many can buy goods from all over the world. Many confront high risks of catching communicable diseases and must compete more openly with each other for jobs and places in business. A study of slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro, for example, found that though 85 percent of the young people had more education than their parents, only 59 percent of them had better jobs—a misalignment that could lead to frustrated expectations.

Emmanuel JimenezTel: (202) 473-3481


The time has never been better to invest in young people living in developing countries—that is the message of the 2007 World Development Report, the twenty-ninth in the series.  The cohort of those aged 12-24 years, at 1.3 billion the largest in history, is the healthiest and best educated—a strong base to build on, in a world that demands more than basic skills.  They will be the next generation of workers, entrepreneurs, parents, active citizens and, indeed, leaders.  And, they will have fewer dependents than their predecessors as they move through adulthood because of falling fertility.  Countries need to seize this window of opportunity before the aging of societies closes it.  Doing so will enable them to grow faster and reduce poverty even further.

This Report discusses the priorities for government action across the five transitions that shape the development of young people’s human capital: learning, working, staying healthy, forming families, and exercising citizenship.  Within each of these transitions, governments need not only to increase investments directly but also to improve the climate for young people and their families to invest in themselves.  This can be achieved through three broad policy directions: expanding opportunities, enhancing capabilities, and providing second chances.

Governments already finance and provide education and health services for youth, and set the broad economic policies and regulations on labor markets that hire them.  But a youth lens on policies reveals important gaps.  In many countries, the rapid and massive expansion of primary education has put unprecedented pressure for places at secondary levels without necessarily transmitting literacy and basic life skills.  Labor market regulations may have very different effects on younger workers than on older workers.  And despite widespread interest, youth in many developing countries lack a platform for civic engagement.  To broaden opportunities policies need to focus on improving the quality of basic human capital investments, especially in low income countries, expanding options to acquire more advanced skills especially in middle income countries, reduce the costs and risks for firms to hire young people, and open avenues for young people to participate directly in the development process.

At some point young people make their own decisions to seize—and in some cases create—these opportunities.  Choosing well from an expanded set of opportunities depends on having the capability to define one’s goals and act on them.  Many youth begin to learn to take decisions when they are developing their identity, and are inexperienced as decisionmakers.  Governments can support them by providing information and tools to manage the risks that many confront for the first time.  In some cases, policies also need to empower young people, particularly adolescent girls in societies where they are farther behind in skills and in their ability to choose for themselves.
Because many young people have been deprived of opportunities to develop their human capital or to participate in the decisions that affect them, they need second chances at human capital development.  Not having a second chance can reverberate for decades afterwards, as youth become not only the next generation of workers and leaders but also the parents influencing succeeding generations.  Since programs for second chances may be costly, they should be well integrated into the overall delivery system for public services, and well targeted at those who need them most, and supplement rather than replace family-based safety nets.

Investing in young people strongly contributes to the central pillars of the Bank’s development strategy, namely, improving the climate for investment and empowerment of the poor.  At the same time, investing in young people is a challenge for governments in all countries, rich and poor.  The Report contributes to addressing this challenge by discussing examples across many different settings where young people, supported by good policies and institutions, have not only coped but flourished, thereby contributing to the future of all generations.
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