America, land of opportunity? Not for young people, study says

The U.S. ranks 23 when it comes to youth development in the world.
The U.S. ranks 23 when it comes to youth development in the world. Creative Commons

The United States is supposed to be a land of opportunity where young people can expect their quality of life will be better than their parents’. But the U.S. isn’t even in the top 20 countries when it comes to opportunities for young people.

The U.S. ranks 23 on a list of 183 countries based on 18 indicators that measure progress for youth ages 15 to 29. Eight of the top 10 countries are in Europe, plus Australia and Japan.

The index from the Commonwealth Secretariat defines youth development as “Enhancing the status of young people, empowering them to build on their competencies and capabilities for life. It will enable them to contribute to and benefit from a politically stable, economically viable, and legally supportive environment, ensuring their full participation as active citizens in their countries.”

Youth development was assessed by measuring different factors under five themes: education, employment and opportunity, health and well-being, political participation and civic participation. Broken down into those categories, the U.S. is only in the top 10 in civic participation, where it ranks second.

Three-quarters of the world’s 1.8 billion young people live in countries where their development opportunities are categorized as low or medium. In low development countries, the youth mortality rate is five times higher.

Youth development tends to be higher in places where young people are a smaller part of the population, and high youth development correlates with high national income. Low income countries tend to have younger populations, but overall the global population is aging.

The 10 countries ranked lowest were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic fairing the worst in the world. However, the region showed the greatest relative improvement in youth development between 2010 and 2015.

"While increases in civic and political participation – though voting or protests for example – in the region are encouraging, they will only get young people so far without corresponding improvements in access to health and education," Abhik Sen, one of the report's authors, told Reuters.