Statistics on young people neither in employment nor in education or training
Data extracted in June 2021.
Planned article update: May 2022.
This article presents an overview of European Union (EU) statistics related to young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET). It sheds light on young people aged 20 to 34, where they gradually start leaving school behind, make their transition in the labour market and often are starting their own families. It provides information on the transition from education to work and focuses on the number of young adults who find themselves disengaged from both education and the labour market.
As one of a set of statistical articles forming part of an online publication on education and training, this article provides a complement to information on early leavers from education and training, as well as employment rates of recent graduates and participation of young people in education and the labour market.
The transition from education to work
One of the most important decisions in life concerns the choice of when to make the move from education to the world of work. This transition is illustrated in Figure 1 by showing both the employment and the education and training status for young people between 15 and 34 by 5-year age groups.
The analysis shown in Figure 1 is complicated somewhat by the emergence of new patterns of transition from education to work. Traditionally, most young people only started work once they had completed their highest level of education or training, and they rarely combined education with a job. The transition has, in recent years, become more prolonged and increasingly unpredictable, with young people switching jobs more frequently and taking longer to become established in the labour market, either by choice or necessity. It has also become increasingly common to find tertiary education students taking part-time or seasonal work to supplement their income, or for young people already in employment to seek a return to education and training in order to improve their qualifications (for example, through evening classes or distance learning). As a result, the transition between education and work has become less clear, with a growing share of students also working and a rising proportion of people in employment also studying (for example, apprentices are generally considered to be employed and in formal education). In 2020, some 10.4 % of young people aged 15–19 in the EU made use of this more flexible transition from education to work, a share that rose to 17.5 % among those aged 20–24, before falling somewhat for older age groups — 12.7 % among those aged 25–29 and 8.9 % for those aged 30–34.
There were almost 14 million young adults aged 20–34 who were neither in employment nor in education and training
The final group of young people, shown at the base of the distribution in each bar in Figure 1, are those who were neither in employment nor in education and training, abbreviated as NEET. With the vast majority of young people aged 15–19 in the EU remaining within education and training (either in formal education or non-formal education and training), it is not surprising to find that relatively few people of this age were NEETs — 6.3 % in 2020. The situation was quite different among those aged 20–34, as more than one in six (17.6 %) of this subpopulation were neither in employment nor in education and training; this corresponded to approximately 13.6 million young adults. The focus of the remainder of this article is therefore on those aged 20–34, where the NEETs phenomenon is most prevalent.
Neither in employment nor in education and training: NEET
Statistics for employment and unemployment have traditionally been used to describe labour markets, in other words, providing data on people who have a job and those who are actively looking for one. However, an analysis of the labour market participation of younger people is somewhat different, especially when:
- a large proportion of young people are still attending school, college, university, other higher education establishment or training, and;
- another group of young people are neither in employment (unemployed or outside the labour force), nor in education or training (NEETs).
The share of young people neither in employment nor in education and training is an indicator that measures the proportion of a given subpopulation who are not employed and not involved in any further education or training; these people may be subdivided into those who are unemployed and those who are considered outside the labour force (in other words, they do not have a job and they are not actively seeking employment).
Young people neither in employment nor in education or training
The share of young adults neither in employment nor in education and training started to rise with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
The NEET rate for young people is closely linked to economic performance and the business cycle. Figure 2 provides an analysis over time for young people aged 20–34 and shows that the share of NEETs in the EU jumped from 16.6 % in 2008 to 18.7 % the following year, after the onset of the global financial and economic crisis. The rate then rose at a more modest pace through to 2013, when it reached its peak at 20.5 %. After that the rate decreased continuously and was below its 2008 level in 2019, at 16.4 %. However, in 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NEET rate clearly increased by 1.2 percentage points, to 17.6 %.
With a record number of NEETs following the financial and economic crisis in the late 2000s, there have been concerns among policymakers that a whole generation of young people in the EU could remain out of the labour market for years to come. The implications of this are two-fold: on a personal level, these individuals are more likely to become disenfranchised and to suffer from poverty and social exclusion, while at a macro-economic level they represent a considerable loss in terms of unused productive capacity and a considerable cost in terms of welfare payments. The economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic gives rise to similar concerns.
An increasing proportion of young adults remained within education or training
While the NEET rate for young people (aged 20–34) in the EU in 2020 was 1.0 percentage points above the 2008 level, Figure 2 shows that over the same period there was a net reduction (-3.4 percentage points) in the proportion of young people who were employed and had completely left education or training. This was counterbalanced by an increase in the share of young people aged 20–34 who were in some form of education or training, including both those who spent their time exclusively in education and training and those who combined a job with education or training. This development may reflect a growing desire on the part of young people to obtain higher levels of qualification in the face of increased competition in labour markets, but may also reflect a lack of full-time employment opportunities during periods of economic downturn.
Figure 3 shows EU NEET rates for three different age groups of young people. During the period 2008–2020, all three groups posted similar developments: a rapid increase between 2008 and 2009 due to the financial and economic crisis; a more gradual increase through to 2013; and a reduction in the rate from 2014 onwards up to 2019. Compared to 2019, latest data available for 2020 shows higher NEET rates in the EU for each age group: 15.7 % for people aged 20–24 (up by 1.2 percentage points), 18.6 % for those aged 25–29 (up by 1.4 points), and 18.2 % for those aged 30–34 (up by 0.8 points).
The proportion of 20–24 year-olds who were NEETs remained systematically lower than the corresponding rates for people aged 25–29 or 30–34 during the whole of the period 2008–2020, probably reflecting, at least to some degree, the relatively high proportion of students who remained in education and training at this age. It is also interesting to note there was a somewhat higher degree of fluctuation in the NEET rate for people aged 25–29 than for those aged 30–34, the former age group recording fewer NEETs than the latter from 2016 to 2019 but reporting again more than those aged 30-34 in 2020.
Greece and Italy recorded the highest proportions of young adults who were neither in employment nor in education and training
Across the EU Member States there was a wide variation in NEET rates in 2020. For people aged 20–34, the lowest rates in 2020 were below 10.0 % in the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg; this was also the case in Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. There were 9 Member States that recorded NEET rates above the EU average of 17.6 %. Among these, by far the highest rates were recorded in Italy and Greece, where a quarter or more of all young people aged 20–34 were neither in employment nor in education and training (29.4 % and 25.9 % respectively); there were also very high NEET rates in Turkey (38.1 %), Montenegro (34.0 %), North Macedonia (32.2 %) and Serbia (23.8 %).
A comparison between Italy and the Netherlands — the EU Member States with the highest and lowest NEET rates in 2020 — reveals that the proportion of young adults who were NEETs was 3.6 times as high among young Italians as among young Dutch.
NEETs: analysis by sex and age
Young women are more likely to be neither in employment nor in education and training
Figure 4 shows that there is a considerable difference between the sexes in relation to the proportion of young adults who were neither in employment nor in education and training. In 2020, more than one fifth (21.5 %) of young women (aged 20–34) in the EU were NEETs, while the corresponding share among young men was 7.7 percentage points lower, at 13.8 %.
There are a range of factors that may explain this gender gap, among which:
- social conventions or pressures, which tend to place a higher importance on women’s role within the family and on men’s role in the workplace;
- careers advice, which may reinforce gender segregation and direct women into a relatively narrow range of occupations;
- labour market issues, such as: employers preferring to hire young men over young women; young women facing assimilation difficulties when returning to work after childbirth; young women being more likely to have low-paid jobs or precarious employment.
In 2020, there were eight EU Member States where the proportion of young female NEETs was at least 10.0 percentage points higher than the corresponding share for young men. Among these, the difference between the sexes was within the range of 11–13 percentage points in Bulgaria, Italy and Estonia, rising to 15–19 points in Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, before peaking at 24.2 points in Czechia; an even wider gender gap was recorded in Turkey (33.1 points).
As young women become older they are more often neither in employment nor in education and training
An analysis for three different age groups of young people (aged 20–24; aged 25–29; aged 30–34) shows that the EU gender gap for NEETs increased as a function of age in 2020. For people aged 20–24, NEET rates for young women were only 1.1 percentage points higher than those for young men. The gap between the sexes widened to 8.5 points among people aged 25–29, and peaked at 12.6 points for those aged 30–34. This pattern may be linked, at least in part, to the growing number of women who postpone childbirth, the low share of men who interrupt their careers to help raise a family, and a range of difficulties faced by women who wish to integrate a professional career with their maternal role.
In 2020, the NEET rate for young people aged 20–24 was lower for women than it was for men in 12 of the EU Member States. Female rates were 0.4–2.7 percentage points lower than male rates in Portugal, Croatia, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Cyprus, Spain, Austria and Finland, with the gap between the sexes rising to 4.1 points in Lithuania, 4.3 points in Malta and 5.3 points in Luxembourg.
Among people aged 25–29 and those aged 30–34, female NEET rates were consistently higher than male NEET rates in almost all of the EU Member States. The only exception is Luxembourg where the NEET rate for women aged 25-29 was slightly lower than the one for men, by 0.1 percentage points. For the first of these two age groups, the biggest gender gaps of more than 20.0 points were recorded in Slovakia and Czechia, where NEET rates for women were respectively 21.5 and 25.3 percentage points higher than those for men. The differences between the sexes were generally more pronounced among people aged 30–34, as gender gaps of 20.0 percentage points or more were recorded in Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, while the gap in Czechia rose to 32.9 percentage points.
NEETs: analysis by activity status
Young female NEETs were more likely to be outside the labour force than young male NEETs
A higher proportion of young (aged 20–34) female NEETs in the EU were outside the labour force (not actively seeking work) compared with young male NEETs of the same age, who were roughly equally unemployed or outside the labour force. This gender difference may be attributed, in part, to family structures, as a higher proportion of young women (than young men) may spend time caring for children and/or other family members.
Looking at young (aged 20–34) men in 2020 in the EU, 6.8 % were reported as unemployed NEETs compared to 7.0 % who were NEETs outside the labour force. In contrast, 5.8 % of young females were unemployed NEETs while 15.7 % were NEETs outside the labour force. As such, almost three times as many young female NEETs were outside the labour force than unemployed. This ratio — between outside the labour force and unemployed female NEETs — rose considerably higher in a number of EU Member States: with more than four times as many young female NEETs being outside the labour force in Germany, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria and up to 10 times as many in Czechia (see Table 2).
NEETs: analysis by educational attainment level
Figure 5 shows the NEET rates for three different levels of educational attainment, people with:
- less than primary, primary or lower secondary level of education (ISCED 2011 levels 0–2; hereafter referred to as a low level of education);
- upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 3 and 4; hereafter referred to as an intermediate level of education);
- tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 5–8; hereafter referred to as a high level of education).
In 2020, the NEET rate for young people aged 20–34 in the EU was 40.0 % among those with a low level of education, compared with 15.6 % among those with an intermediate level of education and 10.6 % among those with a high level of education (see Figure 5). As such, people with a low level of education in the EU were almost four times as likely to be neither in employment nor in education and training as those with a high level.
NEET rates in the EU Member States for people aged 20–34 with a low level of education ranged between 19.7 % (Luxembourg) and 50.0 % (Italy) in 2020, with a rate higher than 50 % in Ireland (52.9 %), Bulgaria (56.1 %), Slovakia (62.5 %) and Croatia (63.5 %). Looking more closely at these figures, these NEET rates were in the range of 20-40 % for half of the EU Member States in 2020, which was also the case in Norway and Switzerland.
Among young people aged 20–34 with an intermediate level of education, NEET rates ranged from 5.8 % in Malta up to a peak of 26.0 % in Italy. For this level of education, four countries recorded a NEET rate higher than 19 % (France, Ireland, Greece and Italy) while the majority of countries were within a range of 11-18 %.
Concerning people aged 20–34 with a high level of education, their NEET rates were overall lower than for the other levels of education, from 4.2 % in the Netherlands to 25.0 % in Greece, a large majority of EU Member States recording rates of 6 to 14 %.
High NEET rates for people with a low level of education and low NEET rates for people with a high level of education
Comparing the three levels of education at Member State level, NEET rates were always highest for young adults with a low level of education. Looking at the other end of the scale, young adults with tertiary education recorded the lowest NEET rates in 2020 for all but three countries (Czechia, Slovakia and Greece) where lowest NEET rates were found for those with an intermediate level of education.
The biggest relative differences between the levels of education are found in the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia and Austria where the NEET rate for those with a low level of education is six times higher than the one for those with a high level of education.
NEETs: analysis by degree of urbanisation
Figure 6 presents information on young people (aged 20–34) who were neither in employment nor in education and training, according to their place of residence, as defined in terms of its degree of urbanisation.
Young adults in the EU living in cities were less likely to be out of employment and education and training …
In 2020, the share of young people (aged 20–34) in the EU who were NEETs was lowest in cities (16.0 %) and about the same level in towns and suburbs (18.9 %) and rural areas (18.8 %).
The pattern of lowest NEET rates in cities (as compared with rural areas and towns and suburbs) was repeated in 16 EU Member States. Among these, the biggest differences in rates between cities and rural areas were recorded in Greece and Romania, where the gap was around 15.5 percentage points, rising to 20.7 points in Bulgaria.
… although the share of young adults neither in employment nor in education and training was more mixed when analysed by degree of urbanisation in EU Member States which recorded relatively low overall NEET rates
Among EU Member States that had an overall NEET rate for young people (aged 20–34) that was below the EU average there was a mixed picture. In the eastern and northern Member States, the lowest NEET rates were recorded in cities; this was most notably the case in Lithuania. By contrast, there were four Member States where young adults living in cities recorded the highest NEET rate: Belgium, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Among these, Belgium stood out as its NEET rate for young adults living in cities (21.9 %) was 9.8 percentage points higher than the rate for those living in towns and suburbs.
Whereas rural areas reported the highest NEET rates in nearly all of the EU Member States with high overall NEET rates, this was less common among Member States with overall NEET rates below the EU average. In Luxembourg, Slovenia, Cyprus, Ireland, Czechia, France, Slovakia and Spain the highest NEET rate among young people was recorded for those living in towns and suburbs.
Source data for tables and graphs
The EU labour force survey (LFS) provides statistics on NEETs. The LFS is documented in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.
Levels of education
Common definitions for education systems have been agreed between the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the OECD and Eurostat. UNESCO developed the International standard classification of education (ISCED) to facilitate comparisons across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions. In 2011, a revision to the ISCED was formally adopted, this is known as ISCED 2011. Prior to this, ISCED 1997 was used as the common standard for classifying education systems. Note that Eurostat statistics on NEETs have a break in series in 2014 when the first information collected under the ISCED 2011 classification became available; prior to this date these statistics were collected using ISCED 1997. For more information, see the article on the ISCED classification.
Key concepts — the labour force
According to the EU labour force survey (LFS), there are three mutually exclusive groups when it comes to describing the ‘labour status’ of a person: employed, unemployed and outside the labour force.
Following guidelines of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the LFS defines an employed person as someone who during the reference week (of the survey) performed work, even if just for one hour, for pay, profit or family gain. Alternatively, the person was not at work, but had a job or business from which he or she was temporarily absent due to illness, holiday, industrial dispute or education and training.
An unemployed person is defined as someone who was:
- without work during the reference week of the LFS;
- was available to start work within the next two weeks (or had already found a job to start within the next three months);
- actively seeking employment during the four weeks preceding the LFS.
A person is outside the labour force, if he or she does not form part of the labour force (i.e. neither employed nor unemployed). The population outside the labour force includes children, students, pensioners and people of working age provided they are not working and are also not unemployed.
More information on the main concepts of the LFS are provided on Eurostat’s website, see this page.
Key concepts — NEETs
The NEET rate shows the proportion of young people neither in employment nor in education and training. The numerator of the indicator refers to people meeting two conditions:
- they are not employed — in other words, they are unemployed or outside the labour force;
- they have not received any (formal or non-formal) education or training in the four weeks preceding the LFS.
The denominator is the total population of the same age group, excluding non-response concerning ‘participation in regular (formal) education and training’, in other words, respondents who failed to answer this LFS question.
Tables in this article use the following notation: ':' not available, confidential or unreliable value.
EU labour markets are increasingly described as being precarious, with a higher proportion of the workforce working on temporary, part-time or casual (so-called zero-hours) contracts; many of these workers are relatively young people. Indeed, people who strive to move from education or training into the world of work are often particularly vulnerable, as they may be the first to exit and the last to enter the labour market, as they compete with other job-seekers who have more experience.
The persistently high share of young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training in the EU may mean that employers recruiting in EU labour markets have a wide choice of potential candidates, although the high share may reflect labour market mismatches, for example geographically or in terms of skills. Some employers criticise the lack of basic skills (poor levels of numeracy and literacy) with which some young people leave the education system, as well as their under-developed life skills (communication and presentational skills, ability to work in a team, problem-solving skills), or their lack of work experience and knowledge in relation to their chosen profession. With a surplus of labour, employers may prefer to recruit young people who have completed a tertiary level of education or an apprenticeship (for more details in relation to employment rates for young graduates, see this article). As such, young people with few or no qualifications may struggle to enter the labour market and may be ‘locked out’ of work or increasingly find themselves stuck in a cycle of low pay with little opportunity for progression. This was particularly the case during the financial and economic crisis, when tertiary graduates also faced difficulties in finding a job, and may have taken jobs for which they were over-qualified in order to get into the labour market. Similar behaviour might be triggered by the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The level of education that a young person achieves therefore has a strong influence on his/her chances of finding work and remaining in work. A relatively high proportion of young people in the EU are neither in employment nor in education or training and policymakers are increasingly concerned by the economic and social consequences of their disengagement. There are a wide range of factors that may contribute to young people being NEETs, among which: having a low or intermediate level of educational attainment; living in a household with a low level of income; coming from a family where a parent experienced unemployment; being raised by a single parent; living in a rural area; having been born in a country outside the EU; or having a disability. Young people who spend a considerable period of time as NEETs are often affected by a range of social conditions, such as poverty and social exclusion, insecurity, crime, or health problems.
The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 key principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and social protection systems. Principle 4 (‘Active support to employment’) states that ‘young people have the right to continued education, apprenticeship, traineeship or a job offer of good standing within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education’.
In 2012, a specific Youth employment package was launched, which led to an increased focus on providing quality traineeships and apprenticeships for young people and called for the introduction of a ‘Youth guarantee’, designed to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 should receive a quality job offer, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. In 2013, the ‘Youth employment initiative’ was launched: it was designed to specifically support young people not in education, employment and training in regions where the youth unemployment rate was over 25 %. In October 2020, all EU countries have committed to the implementation of the reinforced Youth guarantee in a Council Recommendation which steps up the comprehensive job support available to young people across the EU and makes it more targeted and inclusive, also when it comes to the challenges caused by the pandemic.
Although policymakers have sought to address particular groups of young people such as unemployed youth, early leavers from education and training, or young people whose qualifications do not meet labour market needs, there remain a high number of young people in the EU who are neither in employment nor in education or training: NEETs.
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
- All pages on education and training
- All pages on employment
- The EU has reached its target for share of persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education, News release April 2019
- Being young in Europe today — statistical book
- Key data on education in Europe 2012 — statistical book
- Infographic Young Europeans
- Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Transition from education to work (edatt)
- Young people by educational and labour status (incl. neither in employment nor in education and training – NEET) (edatt0)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex and age (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_20)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and citizenship (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_23)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and country of birth (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_28)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and educational attainment level (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_21)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex and NUTS 2 regions (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_22)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and degree of urbanisation (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_29)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age, country of birth and degree of urbanisation (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_35)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age, citizenship and degree of urbanisation (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_36)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age, country of birth and NUTS 2 regions (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_37)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age, citizenship and NUTS 2 regions (NEET rates) (edat_lfse_38)
- Young people by educational and labour status (incl. neither in employment nor in education and training – NEET) (edatt0)
- Youth (yth), see:
- Youth employment (yth_empl)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and labour status (NEET rates) (yth_empl_150)
- Young people neither in employment nor in education and training by sex, age and educational attainment level (NEET rates) (yth_empl_160)
- Youth employment (yth_empl)
- Educational attainment level and transition from education to work (ESMS metadata file — edat1_esms)