Health and Healthcare Systems

COVID-19: This is what worries young people the most

Women lie on the grass to listen to Hozier at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California April 11, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - GF10000056660

Young and carefree? Image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Alex Thornton
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  • 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.

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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:

mental health employment disposable income fake news public debt private debt house housing mental health politics well-being young younger international relations cooperation poverty intergeneration solidarity racial discrimination
The biggest concerns among young people. Image: OECD

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

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.


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

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.

fake news public debt private debt house housing mental health politics well-being young younger international relations cooperation poverty intergeneration solidarity racial discrimination
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.

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Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsWellbeing and Mental HealthYouth Perspectives
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