• 15- to 24-year-olds worry most about the pandemic’s effect on their mental health.
  • Young people in poorer countries are more likely to be concerned about jobs and income.
  • Global survey shows getting sick from the virus is low on the list of concerns.

It’s often said viruses don’t discriminate. But how the COVID-19 pandemic affects you varies greatly depending on many factors – in particular, when you were born. The young may be far less likely to become seriously ill or die, but that doesn’t make them immune from the damaging consequences of this unprecedented disease.

Their greatest concerns are the toll the pandemic is taking on their mental health, employment prospects and education, according to a global survey of 15- to 24-year-olds conducted by the OECD. Respondents in 48 countries were asked to identify the three aspects of the crisis they found most challenging, with the results shown in the chart below:

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The biggest concerns among young people.
Image: OECD

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes - promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Predictions of an upcoming mental health crisis have been made since the start of the pandemic, with so many people cut off from their usual support networks just as they experience greater stress and anxiety. Eighty-percent of respondents to a survey of young people in the UK for the mental health charity Young Minds said coronavirus had made their mental health worse. Isolation and loneliness have been exacerbated by school closures and restrictions on socializing during lockdowns. At the same time, overwhelmed health systems have struggled to maintain mental health services.

But while mental health was the primary worry overall, the survey also demonstrates significant differences in the concerns of young people living in OECD countries, which tend to be wealthier, and those in non-OECD countries.

Outside the OECD, employment and disposable income were the leading concerns. Even before the pandemic, young people were three times more likely to be unemployed, with one in five not in education, employment or training (NEET). Those with jobs were more likely to be employed in the gig economy – as of 2016, three in four young workers were in informal employment, without the protections enjoyed by older workers in more secure jobs.

Since the pandemic struck, many of those jobs have been lost – perhaps for good. Younger people in Europe are twice as likely to be in jobs at risk as older workers. Some economists estimate two out of every five jobs lost will never return.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

A hostile job market, combined with the disruptions to education that have impacted more than 1 billion students, could cause long-term damage to the prospects of the young. The World Bank has warned that the pandemic could cost this generation $10 trillion in lost income over their lifetimes without determined and coordinated action from governments.

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Longer terms concerns among young people.
Image: OECD

Young people are also worried about the less tangible effects of the pandemic, both on them personally, and on wider society. Within the OECD, concerns over relationships with friends and family were as widespread as fears over jobs or loss of income. The long term impact on international cooperation and solidarity between generations was also a cause for alarm.

However, young people reported being much less concerned about restrictions on their individual freedoms and their own physical health. Concern for the wellbeing of older people was as strong as concern for the young. Far from being selfish, most young people have proved themselves willing to accept lockdowns and social and economic pain to protect the health of those most vulnerable to the virus.

Among many, there is also a determination to use the crisis caused by the pandemic to bring about social and, in particular, environmental change. Generation COVID is facing unprecedented challenges, but it is perhaps uniquely resilient enough to meet them.