Expert Commentary

Youth exclusion in Syria: Social, economic and institutional dimensions

2007 study by the Dubai School of Government’s Wolfensohn Center for Development on deep jobless problems among young adults in Syria.

Since the beginning of the 2011 Arab Spring, observers have been examining the various underlying factors that may have helped fuel revolution and unrest across North Africa and the Middle East. One of the factors frequently cited is the unusually high rate of youth unemployment throughout the region.

A 2007 study by the Dubai School of Government’s Wolfensohn Center for Development, “Youth Exclusion in Syria: Social, Economic and Institutional Dimensions,” looked at aspects of the high unemployment rates among young adults ages 15 to 24 in that country using available jobs data and survey responses.

The study’s findings include:

  • Syria’s unemployment rate in 2002 was 26% — about average for the Middle East. However, what distinguishes Syria is that the youth jobless rate has been more than six times higher than the rate among older adults (only 4%); that constitutes “the highest ratio [youth-adult imbalance] among the region’s countries outside the Gulf States.” The average ratio in the Middle East is 3.3; the world average is 3.5.
  • Additionally, the participation rate of Syrian youth in the labor market relative to adults is “substantially lower than the worldwide average (0.66 compared to 0.79 percent).”
  • Demographic trends have exacerbated the problem: “The share of youth in the Syrian population peaked at 25.4% in 2005, presenting challenges in terms of job creation for young people; and in 2002, unemployed youth made up 77% of the working-age unemployed population in Syria.”
  • Given the burgeoning youth population, there were “labor supply growth rates of around 5% per year between 1983 and 2003.”
  • The survey responses indicated that most youth were actively seeking employment, but more than “75% of unemployed youth had been searching for work for over a year.”
  • The long searches for work may be due to the selectiveness of the youth, most of whom seek higher education in order to qualify for higher-paid positions in the public sector: “Employment in the public sector is closely linked to education: from 7% of illiterate men and 4% of illiterate women to 86% of both men and women with university degrees.”
  • There is a major gender divide as it relates to economic activity among Syrian youth: “Young women in Syria are less than half as likely to participate in the labor force compared to young men (30 versus 67%) and nearly twice as likely to be unemployed (39 versus 21%.)” Whereas, “98% of young men are economically active (in school, employed or looking for work.)”

Tags: Middle East, youth

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