by Nadin Medellin, Pablo Ibarrarán, Patricia Jara and Marco Stampini

Para leer este artículo en español, haz click aquí

juventud en riesgo

Most of the Latin American and the Caribbean countries are at a stage of demographic transition in which the share of working-age individuals (15-64 years old) exceeds that of their dependents (children and elderly). In this light, the young population represents an opportunity, a demographic bond that can boost the economy. However, there are important challenges in the region to cash this bond.

A large share of our youth is inactive. They neither study nor work nor look for work. This is the situation of 15% of the 13 to 21 year-olds in the region. The issue is more acute in lower income families, 21% among the extreme poor. Evidence suggests that youth inactivity is a matter of concern because it is associated with a number of risks that may hinder the transition from youth to a productive adulthood.

The gender perspective of youth idleness in LAC has been somewhat neglected while the linkages to crime and violence have been overemphasized. Most of the inactive youth are women; 20% of young women are inactive versus 10% among men.

The difference between female and male inactivity is largely due to engagement in domestic work, which is typically not recognized as “productive work”. In the absence of institutions that support families by providing care for dependent family members, (children, elderly, ill and disable people, etc.) it is mostly women who assume this responsibility.

In this context, there is room for social programs for youth aimed at mitigating the risk of deviation from (or to help them get back to) productive life styles. But, do we know which programs work? The rigorous evidence of the impacts is still scant. Nonetheless, a review of the experiences inside and outside the region teaches us four key lessons:

  1. The programs are more likely to be successful when they combine several interventions to address the multidimensional nature of youth’s vulnerability. For example, a study in the United States showed that the combination of financial incentives (conditional cash transfers and transportation grants) and the provision of childcare and counseling services led to an increase in school enrollment, attendance and retention among teen parents.
  2. Interventions are more effective when, in addition to disseminating information, they provide concrete decision making skills through the development of non-cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking, communication and negotiation in interpersonal relations.
  3. Interventions that involve families are more effective than those that focus only on the youth. For example, the literature has documented the impact of programs that work with families and include parenting skills to improve communication, discipline practices, boundary regulations and supervision.
  4. Support and mentoring services, with frequent and regular meetings with qualified tutors have a high potential for changing high-risk behavior. As shown in a recent paper, these programs can be very effective if carefully designed and monitored.

Countries in the region have implemented many programs that aim at developing the non-cognitive abilities of the youth at risk. Most of them are small scale programs. However, there are three exceptions that are worth mentioning:

  • Some Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs have extended their coverage to keep the youth in school through secondary and tertiary education. To maximize the effect of the financial incentive, some have directed the cash transfer directly to the youth rather than to their mothers.
  • In a few countries, the national employment systems grant priority access to the youth that formerly benefited from CCTs. Take a look at Brazil’s Projovem and Colombia’s Familias en Acción to see examples.
  • The National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela  promotes social inclusion and comprehensive development of the human being through musical education, with emphasis on teamwork.

In a nutshell, if LAC countries want to cash the demographic bond, they must focus on preparing the youth for a productive adulthood and generating opportunities, particularly for young women. Certainly, programs for youth at risk have the potential to contribute to this purpose. However, much is still to be learned. We call for an ambitious research agenda focusing on program quality and effectiveness.

What is your country doing for the youth? Let us know in the comments section below or in Twitter.

Para leer este artículo en español, haz click aquí

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