Pathways to Progress Global Youth Survey 2017 - Economic Prospects & Expectations

Young people today make up the largest youth population in history. Their successes and struggles are as diverse as their personalities and aspirations.

Pathways to progress

Young people today make up the largest youth population in history. Their successes and struggles are as diverse as their personalities and aspirations.

However, in all corners of the globe, this generation faces a common challenge: persistent youth unemployment. Left unaddressed, the consequences reverberate across our cities. When young people don’t see or have a sustainable economic path, our families and communities also suffer. In fact, the futures of cities are intrinsically tied to the economic success of young people.

We know, however, that young people remain optimistic, entrepreneurial, and have expectations for what they need to succeed. We wanted to capture these drivers and learn how municipal leaders, civil society, the private sector, and others can work together to bridge the gap between the economic aspirations and reality of young people. Young people believe in a brighter future and it is up to us to afford them that opportunity.

That’s why the Citi Foundation commissioned a survey with Ipsos to build on existing research and further gauge the economic prospects and pursuits of young people in 45 cities across 32 countries around the world. The results in this paper are based on the voices of more than 7,000 young people surveyed. We learned about what careers they want to pursue, the availability of resources that help connect them to employment opportunities, and the obstacles that stand in their way.

This research is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative, designed to boost the employability of young people, ages 16-24, around the globe. In February 2017, we announced an expanded three-year commitment to invest $100 million to connect 500,000 young people globally to opportunities that set them on a path towards economic success. Through entrepreneurship training, mentorship, leadership development, and a first job, we are working with leading community organisations and municipal leaders around the world to help make today’s young people the most employable generation yet. Together, we are helping test, scale and replicate proven solutions, as well as taking learnings from our work in the United States and applying it globally where appropriate.

With a rapidly changing and complex economic and social environment, these insights will help guide our approach to investing in our future leaders. We hope it will help inform your work too.

Young people in this changing world

We live in a time full of opportunities and uncertainties. These rapid changes present a challenging new landscape for today’s young people to navigate. Young people (defined as 16-24 year olds) are a significant population representing about 1.2 billion people and 16% of the world’s population. They are the largest single generation in human history and face unprecedented technological, social and economic changes. Young people have the opportunity to shape the next five decades, but they need help to overcome barriers and realise their full potential.

Globally, unemployment among young people is stubbornly high at more than 13%. More alarming is the number of employed young people—156 million— who live in extreme or moderate poverty despite having a job, often in emerging and developing countries. In this environment, young people need an agile and versatile skill set to compete for meaningful employment opportunities, thus ensuring their individual economic well-being and also contributing to the overall strength and success of their communities. For this young demographic, large hurdles exist such as poor access to education, few opportunities for on-the-job training and limited numbers of well-paying jobs, particularly among low-income young people.

Our research shows that young people across the globe are overwhelmingly optimistic about their future. A fundamental question is how to capitalise on this optimism and best prepare young people to take advantage of future opportunities that will lead them towards economic success. To investigate this, we ask two central questions in this paper:

  1. How are young people preparing for their future? 
  2. What barriers do they face when preparing for their future careers? 

The optimism gap 

  • Young people are optimistic despite uncertainty and change across the globe
  • Young people believe in their opportunities for future career success; however, disconnects exist

The higher education gap

  • An important key to success yet out of reach for many
  • Internships and apprenticeships are seen as critical for success but young people don’t believe there are enough opportunities

The Small Business Gap

  • Young people have the entrepreneurial spirit but cite many barriers to achieving this dream


We are left with a portrait of incredible optimism and potential amongst young people despite numerous gaps between their expectations and hopes and the reality of their situations. But this intricate mosaic is a frail one—at risk of crumbling apart if we do not intervene and intervene early on.

We see that for these young people, large hurdles remain to access education and decent work, work that will lead to economic stability not only for themselves but for their families and for their communities. And while the majority of young people surveyed are optimistic about their future, this optimism is not necessarily supported by the actual prospects facing young individuals, as trends show real incomes and economic security decreasing or stalling throughout most cities.

The gaps between the desire to succeed, which is real and shared among these young people, and the knowledge and opportunity of how to succeed, remain open for a generation that is experiencing far less economic growth than generations prior. Our duty is to help these young people find the path to progress and help connect them with the opportunities to succeed. The need is as urgent and pressing as ever.

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