Young people in Southeast Europe and their economic prospects

MILOJEVIC The Young Unemployment rate LONG

The Youth Study Southeast Europe 2018/2019 says that three factors determine the situation of young people in the Southeast Europe. These are: economic insecurity, low levels of satisfaction, and the pro-European orientation.

Youth Study Southeast Europe 2018/2019 was conducted by Miran Lavric, University of Maribor, Smiljka Tomanovic, University of Belgrade, and Mirna Jusic, Center for Social Research, powered by Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The research covered 10,000 participants, young people aged between 14 and 29, from ten Southeast European countries.

The authors studied young people’s attitudes towards different economic issues, their social status, education and expectations with regard to education, intentions to leave their home country, the social values that they cherish, attitudes about the political system, and factors determining it. The study covered socioeconomic factors — the social status of the participants, their own and their parents’ education, employment and unemployment, as well as psychological and social factors, such as expectations from political actors, hopes regarding social mobility, perception of mechanisms of corruption.

The very introduction of the study implies that young people from the entire region share one thing — a strong support for a welfare state and opposition to the concept of “neoliberal transition towards Europeanization”. Access to education, especially tertiary, is in correlation with social status and parents’ education, as “young people from poorer families are far less likely to have access to higher education, take part in political or civic activities, or those regarding self-improvement, as well as to find satisfactory work.” This implies a relatively low level of social mobility in the region.


According to the results of the research, there has been an increase in practical aspects of education in all countries (except for North Macedonia). This parameter of educational process has shown a significant improvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, and Slovenia.

However, regardless of this change, young people still see the educational system as insufficient in compliance with their future needs to become a part of the labor market. Thus, in BiH, 69 per cent of participants rated the educational system as not well adjusted to the labor market, while only 22 per cent rated it as a well-adjusted (with 8 per cent without an opinion). Except for Croatia and Romania, in all countries covered by the research (BiH, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, North Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro) more than half of the participants are not satisfied with the relationship between the acquired education and labor market demands.

Young people from poorer families have less chances of acquiring higher education, to begin with. When it comes to Southeast Europe, this is particularly applicable to Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania. “It is evident that young persons’ low socioeconomic status presents an obstacle to achieving their educational potential, as well as to gaining the needed knowledge and skills and having aspirations of higher education,” authors of the study wrote.

There is a widespread belief among participants that corruption is common in education, which is particularly present in Serbia.


Unemployment is a great problem in most of the Southeast European countries (except for Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria). Youth unemployment is also rather high, and BiH has the highest youth unemployment rate in Europe at 54.3 per cent. During the last couple of years, youth unemployment in Southeast Europe has shown a downward trend, but it is still rather high.

According to research findings, statistical analysis shows that there is a significant correlation between cultural and economic capital and the employment status. Young people coming from financially worse-off households are more likely to be unemployed. There is a correlation between gender and unemployment: young men are more likely to be in some form of employment than young women. The level of education is a factor that strongly affects the employment status: those with the lowest level of qualifications have the greatest chance to be unemployed.

Those who are unemployed, but also not in education nor looking for a job are a relevant group for analysis of economic opportunities for youth. They belong to a heterogeneous category, which, however, includes young people caring for relatives, those who are unemployed for a shorter period of time, and those taking a break from school.

This study suggests that being outside of education, training, and the labor market is considered a grave problem, especially in the Western Balkans, where as much as one-quarter of young people belong to this category, according to a research conducted in 2016. The percentage of young people in this category is low in certain countries, such as North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro, while it is rather high in Kosovo and Albania.

“The implications of having a large cohort of youth outside of education and employment are grave. Besides the immense economic cost that countries incur for not integrating young people in labor markets, such a large number of young people in this category encourage social disengagement,” the authors of the report wrote. Young people who belong to this group are less likely to take an interest in politics, to vote, to trust in institutions or to engage in civic participation.

A significant percentage of young people working in precarious jobs show the “political economy of insecurity.” In many Southeast European countries, different forms of non-standard work (temporary contracts for full or part-time jobs or occasional jobs) and self-employment are more common than permanent work.

“With the exception of two countries, the majority of youth who are employed in the SEE region work in non-standard contracts. Skills mismatches are relatively prevalent in the region with respect to working in positions not trained or educated for (42 per cent on average for the region) or in terms of over-education (30 per cent),” the study says.


The research results show that among young people there is a strong desire to emigrate, particularly in those countries that have not joined the European Union. In those countries that are EU members — Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia — between 10-20 per cent of participants expressed a desire to emigrate, while these figures are the highest in Albania at as much as 43 per cent.

According to the research findings, young people from urban areas are more likely to move from their home country than those from rural areas. The individual desire to emigrate is also in a strong negative correlation with the observed financial status of the household. Another significant factor is the status on the labor market — the employed are less likely to move than the unemployed. There is also a negative correlation between the desire to emigrate and HDI (Human Development Index) of these countries.

“The desire to leave may, in general, also be interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction with young people’s perception of the situation at home or the future of their country rather than any serious plan to emigrate,” the study concludes.

Milica Milojević is an economist and analyst, a part-time economic journalist with corporate, banking, and consulting experience. She has written papers on monetary and political economics, and economic history of Serbia and the Balkans.


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