United Kingdom

Young adult unemployment

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • The ‘unemployment rate’ is the proportion of the ‘economically active’ population who are not working (i.e. the number who are unemployed divided by the number who are either in paid work or unemployed, excluding those who are ‘economically inactive’ from both the numerator and the denominator).
  • The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has risen sharply in the current recession, from 15% in 2008 to 19% in 2009 and then to 20% in 2010.  However, the rate had already been rising for a number of years before the recession, from 12% in 2004 to 15% in 2008.  These rises have collectively more than offset the falls during the 1990s and, as a result, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in 2010 was actually higher than its previous peak in 1993.
  • Qualitatively, the unemployment rate for older workers (25 to retirement) has followed a similar pattern: falling from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, then rising from 2004 to 2010, with a sharp rise between 2008 and 2009.  Quantitatively, however, the falls from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s were greater for older workers than for those aged 16 to 24.  As a result, the unemployment rate for older workers in 2010 was still lower than that in the early 1990s.
  • Putting this point another way: the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is now more than three times the rate for older workers.  By contrast, in the mid-1990s, it was ‘just’ twice the rate for older workers.
  • As a result, two-fifths of all those who are unemployed are now aged under 25.
  • Averaging across 2008 to 2010, the unemployment rate was higher for young men than for young women: 20% compared with 15%.  This contrasts with the situation for those aged 25 to retirement, where the unemployment rates for men and women are similar.
  • At 22%, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds is highest in London.
  • See the indicator on the wider issue of lack of work among working-age adults as a whole.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

The unemployment rate among young adults is significantly higher than for adults over 25.  As with other age groups, unemployment for young people is a major cause of low income and deprivation.

From a health perspective, the mortality rates of unemployed young men are higher than for the employed. 1  There are also concerns about the connections between unemployment and suicide rates, and there is evidence of a correlation between unemployment and the incidence of major depressive illness. 2

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24, compared with those aged 25 and over (up to retirement).  The second graph shows the same information but in terms of the actual numbers unemployed.  The data shown goes back to 1993 as 1993 was when unemployment was at its peak in the recession of the early 1990s.

The third graph shows how unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds varies by gender, with the equivalent data for those aged 25 to retirement also shown.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The fourth graph shows how unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds varies by region.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

‘Unemployment’ is the ILO definition, which is used for the official government unemployment numbers.  It comprises all those with no paid work in the survey week who were available to start work in the next fortnight and who either looked for work in the last month or were waiting to start a job already obtained.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of the economically active population who are unemployed (i.e. the number who are unemployed divided by the number who are either in paid work or unemployed).

The data source for all the graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the data relates to the United Kingdom (except for 1993 and 1994 in the first graph, which are for Great Britain).  The figures for each year are the average for the four quarters of the relevant year.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The LFS is a large, well-established, quarterly government survey designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Maximise employment opportunity for all.

Lead department

Department for Work and Pensions.

Official national targets

None.

Other indicators of progress

Overall employment rate taking account of the economic cycle.

Narrow the gap between the employment rates of the following disadvantaged groups and the overall rate: disabled people; lone parents; ethnic minorities; people aged 50 and over; those with no qualifications; and those living in the most deprived Local Authority wards.

Number of people on working age out-of-work benefits.

Amount of time people spend on out-of-work benefits.

Previous 2004 targets

As part of the wider objective of full employment in every region, over the three years to Spring 2008, and taking account of the economic cycle, demonstrate progress on increasing the employment rate.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

Year Unemployed as a proportion of the economically active Number unemployed
Age 16 to 24 Age 25 to retirement Age 16 to 24 Age 25 to retirement
199317.9% 8.9% 900,000 2,010,000
199416.7% 8.2% 800,000 1,850,000
199515.7% 7.4% 730,000 1,690,000
199615.4% 6.8% 710,000 1,570,000
1997 14.1% 5.7% 650,000 1,320,000
1998 13.5% 5.0% 610,000 1,160,000
1999 12.9% 4.8% 580,000 1,120,000
2000 12.4% 4.3% 560,000 1,010,000
2001 12.0% 3.9% 540,000 920,000
2002 12.2% 3.9% 560,000 940,000
2003 12.4% 3.7% 570,000 890,000
2004 12.3% 3.4% 580,000 810,000
2005 13.0% 3.4% 600,000 810,000
200614.2% 3.9% 660,000 940,000
200714.5% 3.7% 680,000 900,000
200815.1% 4.1% 740,000 1,010,000
200919.1% 5.7% 920,000 1,440,000
201019.7% 6.0% 930,000 1,510,000

Graph 3

Year Age 16 to 24 Age 25 to retirement
Males 20.3% 5.7%
Females15.0% 4.5%

Graph 4

Region Age 16 to 24
East 16%
East Midlands 17%
London 22%
North East 20%
North West 20%
Northern Ireland 16%
Scotland 16%
South East 15%
South West 14%
Wales 20%
West Midlands 21%
Yorkshire & Humberside 19%
1. Drever, F and Whitehead, M Health inequalities, ONS, 1997, page 154.  Among the younger unemployed (ages 16-44) where men had a 58% and women a 69% excess.
2. Weissman et al, (1991) cited in Rutter, M and Smith, D (eds) Psychosocial disorders in young people, time trends and their causes, John Wily & Sons, 1995, page 592.