Out-of-School Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Policy Perspective

Keiko Inoue, Emanuela di Gropello, Yesim Sayin Taylor, and James Gresham
The World Bank
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Dec, 2015

The economic and social prospects are daunting for the 89 million out-of-school youth who comprise nearly half of all youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within the next decade when this cohort becomes the core of the labor market, an estimated 40 million more youth will drop out, and will face an uncertain future without work and life skills. Their lack of work and life skills will impair these youth’s ability to get good jobs in desirable occupations, resulting in low and unstable incomes while exposing them to potentially long periods of unemployment. The adverse effects of staying out of school will also be felt by the next generation, since these youth’s poor economic outcomes will hurt their ability to provide favorable opportunities for their own children. Societies at large will feel the impact: economic growth will be constrained, limiting the revenue-raising capacity of governments, while the need for public expenditures to support these youth, who will be more likely to rely on government health care, public welfare, or housing assistance, will expand. They will have shorter lives than their educated peers, will be more likely to become teen parents and to commit crimes, and will be less likely to raise healthy children, engage in civic activity, or vote or volunteer in their communities.

With a growing cohort of out-of-school youth, the opportunities to address the compounding policy challenges are fleeting. While East Asian countries turned their youth bulges into an engine for growth, the same phenomenon spells a potentially explosive economic and social disaster for Sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts to address out-of-school youth issues must be cross-sectoral and driven by leadership at the highest levels. Yet the reality is that out-of school youth are often “policy orphans,” positioned in a no man’s land with little data to develop an evidence-based advocacy framework, low implementation capacity, lack of interest in long-term sustainability of programs, insufficient funds, and no coordination across the different governmental entities—ministries of labor, education, and human services, among others— that carry partial responsibility for these youth. The international focus from development agencies, including the World Bank, is also fragmented. The continent is mired with youth programs that were launched with much fanfare and then either fizzled when the desired outcomes were not immediately achieved or were abruptly terminated when funds (often external) ran out. Thus, it is critical to elevate the issue to the highest political office with authority to allocate sufficient funds and human resources to design, implement, evaluate, and then sustain interventions.

To support the design of better policies that target youth, this report explores the overarching factors that contribute to the out-of-school youth problem, specifically focusing on the 12- to 24-year-old cohort, which includes those most likely to drop out during the secondary cycle. There are strong (and not surprising) links between a country’s socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and the magnitude of its out-of-school youth population. These factors are explored in detail in this report. In addition, the incidence of out-of-school youth is lower in countries that spend a larger share of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education and devote a larger share of their public education resources to secondary education. Youth, especially younger youth, benefit from schools with adequate facilities. Countries with high population growth rates also experience a higher incidence of out-of-school youth. Finally, the presence of strong formal labor markets and the availability of stable jobs entice more youth (or their parents) to choose school over work. When a larger share of the labor force holds wage and salaried jobs, youth tend to attend and stay in school— a reminder that labor and education policies and the general business climate in a country are deeply connected.

This report draws from three background papers as well as from an extensive review of the literature on programs and policies for out-of-school youth in Sub-Saharan Africa (see appendix A) as well as in other regions. The background studies include an overview of basic indicators related to out-of school youth, a diagnostic analysis of the magnitude and nature of the out-of-school youth problem in the region, and an econometric model of schooling from lower to higher education cycles. The first two studies utilize data from household surveys and labor market surveys conducted between 2006 and 2011 for 31 countries across Africa. The econometric study uses household survey data from 20 countries in the region (see appendixes E and F). Although the background studies did not have data for all countries in the region, data were available for a majority of countries that represent the region well.

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Workforce Development
Economic Empowerment