• More than two-thirds of Europe’s young adults live with their parents.
  • Life expectancy among working-age Americans is declining.
  • 10 young leaders under the age of 20 will attend this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos.

A group of 10 young leaders, all under the age of 20, will be attending this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos for the first time.

Alongside their – slightly older – peers among the Global Shapers Community, they will be championing the involvement of the next generation in policy decisions that will affect them for decades to come.

The need to engage younger people in this process has perhaps never been greater, and the challenges they face are complex, interconnected and seemingly intractable.

A home of your own

More than two-thirds of young European adults live at home with their parents. While that might sound great for those parents dreading the moment their kids leave home, it's also an indication some young adults across the developed world simply can’t afford a place of their own.

While their parents’ generation enjoyed high wage inflation and benefitted from rising property values, the young face relatively low levels of income and social mobility, particularly in the US and the UK, but elsewhere in the developed world, too.

Young people living with parents
More young people in Europe are living with their parents than before.
Image: European Commission/Eurostat

Incomes for 25- to 34-year-olds have only increased by 19%, which might explain why home ownership among the same group fell from 55% in 1997 to 35% in 2017.

A similar pattern exists in the United States, where housing costs have quadrupled since 1950 and homelessness rates have hit highs not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Between 1949 and 2018, mortgage debt as a percentage of GDP grew from 15% to 80% in the US.

What is a Global Shaper?

The Global Shapers Community is a network of young people under the age of 30 who are working together to drive dialogue, action and change to address local, regional and global challenges.

The community spans more than 8,000 young people in 165 countries and territories.

Teams of Shapers form hubs in cities where they self-organize to create projects that address the needs of their community. The focus of the projects are wide-ranging, from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities.

Examples of projects include Water for Life, a effort by the Cartagena Hub that provides families with water filters that remove biological toxins from the water supply and combat preventable diseases in the region, and Creativity Lab from the Yerevan Hub, which features activities for children ages 7 to 9 to boost creative thinking.

Each Shaper also commits personally and professionally to take action to preserve our planet.

Working-age life expectancy

In addition to struggling to afford a home of their own, studies show young people today suffer from more mental health challenges. And in some developed countries, life expectancy rates have slowed or even reversed.

In the UK, life expectancy for under-50s has fallen behind some other European countries. This is fuelled, in part, by a wave of drug-related deaths, most acutely in Scotland.

In the United States, between 2010 and 2017, mortality rates for working-age people, between 25 to 64, increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 348.2 deaths per 100,000. The main causes were drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

Youth unemployment rate
The youth unemployment rate as a percentage of youth labour force
Image: OECD

Time to listen

By most measures, youth unemployment is likely to be higher than that of the overall working population. Around 621 million young people between the ages of 15 to 24 are not in education, employment or training.

Across the 36 OECD countries, three stand out for very high youth unemployment: Italy, Spain and Greece. There, youth unemployment rates are 32%, 34% and 40%, respectively. South Africa, which is not a full OECD member, has a youth unemployment rate of 53%.

Although some countries, such as Japan, face the challenge of an ageing population, the world is dominated by young people. One-quarter of all people alive today are younger than 14 and the global median age is just 30.

For one young leader attending the Forum’s Annual Meeting, now is the time to elevate the position of young people. Grace Gatera, a mental health worker in Rwanda, says, “Young people are largely ignored when decisions affecting them are being made.”

Doing so is a tragedy, she says: “It’s time to pass the mic.”