Becoming an Adult During the Recession

The current economic downturn is having major adverse impacts on the economic performance of North America and Europe, causing many countries to enter into recession. Besides a considerable fall in asset prices, there have been substantial increases in unemployment and financial hardship (Scarpetta et al. 2010). In particular, the crisis has hit the young population very hard (Bell et al. 2011). According to official OECD statistics (2013), the overall unemployment rate for the working age population (15-65) has increased by +3.3% between 2007 and 2012 in the EU-21. In the same time frame, unemployment rate has increased by +4.6% for young people aged 30-34, by +5.1% for those aged 25-29, and by +7.3 for those aged 20-24.

Together with Arnstein Aassve and Elena Cottini (Aassve et al. 2013), I have studied the short-term consequences of the current recession on the transition to adulthood of young Europeans, focusing on two main cornerstones in the transition to adulthood literature: economic independence and residential autonomy. Using the most recent micro-level data from the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), we provide an overview of the economic situation of young people in 24 European countries at the beginning of the 2010s.

Our research documents an increase in youth vulnerability during the recession all over Europe. When compared to the pre-crisis period (2007), in 2011 European youth is more likely to be unemployed, poorer, and with increased difficulties in making ends meet. The “younger youth” aged 18-24 is the most affected by the recession according to unemployment rates. Young people in their early 30s show lower increases in unemployment if compared to younger adults, whereas in some countries this age group is the most affected by increased poverty and financial deprivation.

There is, however, a certain degree of heterogeneity across countries and welfare regimes, in that different countries differed in the degree to which they were exposed to the economic recession. For example, Southern Europe experienced the harshest increase in youth unemployment rates (+34.0% in Spain and +31.2% in Greece among young people aged 18-24 between 2007 and 2011), followed by Central and Eastern Europe (+14% in Slovakia and +10.6% in Slovenia). The highest increase in poverty rate is found among young people aged 25-29 in Social Democratic countries (+16.9 in Denmark and +7.9% in Sweden) and in the UK (+10%). On the contrary, Continental countries registered negligible changes in terms of youth unemployment, poverty and financial deprivation, and among these countries one exception stands out, namely Germany, the only country where youth employment prospects improved during the recession.

Our data also show that co-residence with parents increased in many countries between 2007 and 2011, in particular among the age group 18-24 (+9% in France between 2007 and 2011, +8.5% in Sweden, and +7.1% in Hungary) and 25-29 (+13.9 in Hungary and +6% in Poland, and +5.9% Slovakia). Declining real earnings and poor employment prospects result in a “failure to launch” into economic independence (Bell et al. 2007). In turn, the gain of economic independence is considered an important pre-requisite for both leaving the parental home and achieving residential autonomy (Whittington et al. 1996; Aassve et al. 2002). Therefore, as the economy struggles and young people are faced with higher unemployment rates, increased risk of poverty and increased financial difficulties, it also becomes more difficult to gain or maintain residential independence from the parental home.

As of 2011, the adverse impact of the crisis may not have been entirely revealed. OECD data show that unemployment rates have been rising from 2011 to 2012 in many countries, in particular in Southern Europe. Hence, the consequences of the recession on the transition to adulthood are expected to be more severe than what the figures based on EU-SILC 2011 suggest. For example, co-residence rates with parents, youth poverty and financial deprivation are expected to have increased further between 2011 and 2012, following the same path of youth unemployment rates.

Our research suggests that an increasing proportion of youth is at high risk of prolonged unemployment or inactivity, in turn linked to higher poverty and financial deprivation. As a consequence, this is likely to influence young people careers and livelihoods. On this backdrop, it is clear that the current recession will have major long-lasting and multifaceted consequences on the transition to adulthood of an entire generation of young people.


This entry was posted in Inequality and Poverty, Unemployment, Youth by Agnese Vitali. Bookmark the permalink.
Agnese Vitali

About Agnese Vitali

Dr. Agnese Vitali recently joined the Division of Social Statistics and Demography at the University of Southampton. She was Research Fellow at the Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics at Bocconi University, Italy where she also earned a PhD in Statistics. Her research interests include topics related to the transition to adulthood, low fertility, and work-family issues.

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