Being young in Europe today - executive summary
Data extracted in December 2017
Planned article update: June 2021
The EU is growing older …
The European Union (EU) is continuing to age and the share of children and young people in its population has been decreasing continuously over recent years. In 2016, the EU population stood at 510 million people, of whom just under 167 million (or 33.0 %) were children or young people (0-29 years). Furthermore, the number of elderly people (65 years and over) has exceeded the number of children (0-14 years) since 2005.
Although this ageing phenomenon has been recorded across the world’s industrialised societies, it has impacted the EU population more than most others. There were however some disparities between individual EU Member States. Whereas Ireland and Cyprus boasted shares of young people aged 0-29 years in their total populations that were around 39 %, some other Member States, for example Italy, recorded shares that were much lower, around 29 %. The proportion of children and young people also varied significantly between regions within the EU. The proportion of children and young people in the EU’s population is projected to continue to decrease until 2043, and then to slowly and continuously increase until 2080 without however returning to their current share.
As a consequence, the median age of the EU population has risen on average by more than three months each year over the last two decades. It stood at 35 years in 1990 and had grown to 43 years in 2016. This was the result of the combination of decreased fertility rates and increased life expectancy.
… while its families are developing and adapting to changes in society
The share of households with children generally declined in the EU over recent years. Single-person households and couples without children made up the majority of households, although the figures varied between EU Member States.
The EU is a diverse entity, made up of different Member States with their own specific cultural characteristics and norms. Yet despite these differences, features common to all young Europeans have begun to appear, such as a widespread pattern of delaying the transition into some aspects of adulthood. For example, young people tend to leave the parental home and to get married later in life than they used to. Furthermore, the proportion of babies born outside of marriage in the EU increased over recent decades, while the age at which women had children was also deferred.
Despite these changes that young people in the EU face, life satisfaction in the EU was highest among the age group 16-24 years in 2013, with an average score of 7.6 (on a scale of 0-10) for this age group compared with 7.1 for the whole population.
Young people are also aware of the importance of physical well-being — a majority of them exercised or played sports regularly or with some regularity. Despite this, health inequality continued to exist in the EU, mainly due to socioeconomic differences: people who were less well-off tended to be in poorer health than others.
Health matters …
One of the EU’s main objectives is to improve the health inequality situation across Europe, although the general health situation of people in the EU has been improving continuously over time. Today’s young people are expected to live longer than ever before, the result of a combination of economic development, better education, rising living standards, improved lifestyles and greater access to and quality of health services. Infant mortality rates in the EU decreased by 90 % between 1961 and 2015.
As far as their self-perceived health status is concerned, the vast majority of young EU citizens rated it as good or very good. However differences according to gender and income levels stand out. Generally speaking, obesity increases with age, and so was less prevalent among young people; nevertheless 9 % of young people aged 25-29 years were obese. Smoking remained a regular habit of young people in the EU, particularly in some Member States, most notably Hungary and Austria.
… as does education
In an ever more competitive world economy, a good educational and training system plays an increasingly important role. Over the last few years, the EU has launched a series of initiatives aimed at helping its Member States achieve their goals in terms of better education; these range from childcare to university education.
Over the years, childcare has become more and more important to ensure that parents, in particular mothers, can more easily combine their private/family and professional lives. Although the availability of childcare facilities has generally increased throughout the EU, the situation was still very diverse between Member States. In 2015, half of all children under the age of 3 in the EU were cared for only by their parents and 3 in 10 children of this age were cared for, at least in part, by informal childcare.
Enrolment rates for primary and secondary education are very high in the EU Member States, but large discrepancies exist between EU Member States in enrolment rates for tertiary education, especially for older age groups.
One of the most important assets required to take advantage of the EU single market is language skills: the more languages you speak, the more opportunities you have. Historically, several EU Member States have been providing multilingual education to their pupils. However, some countries have been catching up. Broader language skills also make student mobility a much easier process (which is also encouraged through the popular Erasmus+ programme). Between 2010 and 2015 the number of pupils in primary schools learning two or more foreign languages rose most (in percentage point terms) in Malta and Slovakia.
An increasing number of young people complete a tertiary degree. In 2016, almost two fifths (39 %) of the EU population aged 30-34 years had completed a tertiary education, compared with less than one third (31 %) in 2008. The proportion of women aged 30-34 years with a tertiary level of educational attainment was higher than that recorded for men of the same age in all but one of the EU Member States, the exception being Germany.
The difficult transition to the labour market
During the global financial and economic crisis and the slow recovery thereafter many young people in the EU leaving the education system found it difficult to enter the labour market. This may explain why some young people opted to extend their time in education before entering the labour market or even to return to education. Higher levels of education and training appear to provide better job opportunities.
Unemployment of young people turned into a major problem in some EU Member States, especially those that were hardest hit by the financial and economic crisis of 2008. However, the issue of youth unemployment remained a problem for the EU in 2016, with 19 % of young people aged 25-29 years in the EU neither in employment nor in education and training. The unemployment rate of young people in the EU increased greatly between 2008 and 2013 before decreasing somewhat through to 2016; nevertheless, in 2016 it remained above its pre-crisis level. Although unemployment rates varied substantially between EU Member States, the historical patterns were broadly similar. Young people were also hit by long-term unemployment, especially in those EU Member States that were particularly affected by the crisis.
Children’s lives in the EU — a mixed picture
Although most children (0-17 years) in the EU grow up in favourable conditions, just over one out of every four were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2016. Certain EU Member States were worse affected than others. The EU has addressed this issue through several initiatives including the recommendation Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Out of all the forms of poverty and social inclusion, monetary poverty was the most widespread among children in the EU in 2016.
There also appeared to be a clear link between the level of education of parents and the risk of poverty or social exclusion of their children: the higher the level of education, the smaller the risk.
The digital world — opportunities and challenges
In many ways, the digitalisation process is a two-sided coin: although it has revolutionised the way we live our daily lives, it has also opened up a new rift in society, the so-called digital divide. Access to the internet is now within anyone’s reach, provided they own or have access to a compatible device. However the skills required to use the internet and access to high-speed internet services are not evenly distributed.
Within the EU, the presence of children in a household increases the likelihood that the household has internet access. In 2016, more than 9 out of 10 young people aged 16-29 years in the EU accessed the internet on a daily basis, which was substantially more than the average for the whole population. The internet was increasingly accessed from mobile devices, such as smartphones, at the expense of computers. The highest proportion of young people using the internet daily was found amongst younger users and those with a higher level of formal education.
As avid users of digital devices, young people in the EU tended to be more likely to have ICT skills than the population as a whole. Data on young people generally indicated a broader use of the internet than the general population, carrying out a wide array of activities ranging from online gaming to social networking and participating in civic activities. The challenge for the EU and its Member States is to combine the social and economic benefits from this early take-up of ICT by young people with the safe use of these innovative technologies by the most vulnerable members of society.
- LFS series - Specific topics (lfst)
- Youth (yth), see:
- Youth population (yth_demo)