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Youth Labour Market Statistics (YouthSTATS database)

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The ILOSTAT database on youth labour market statistics is a set of indicators describing the labour market situation of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 years. It includes indicators on the labour force, employment, unemployment, school-to-work transitions, working time and earnings.

Concepts and definitions

While in other contexts, youth are defined by the United Nations as persons aged between 15 and 24, under the scope of this database, which includes the school-to-work framework, youth refer to all individuals aged between 15 and 29. This recognizes the fact that some young people remain in education for longer, and captures more information on the post-graduation employment experiences of young people. 

The labour force concepts and definitions, such as employment and unemployment, are available in the Labour Force Statistics (LFS) database description.

The school-to-work transition indicators were designed to give a more detailed classification of young people’s transition path in the labour market. The first indicator classifies youth into three groups according to their stage in the school-to-work transition: (I) transited, (II) in transition, and (III) transition not yet started (see the following box). 

Stages and forms of transition from school to work


I. Transited – A young person (aged 15 to 29) who is not in school and currently employed in:

a. A stable job, or

b. Satisfactory self-employment or a satisfactory temporary job

II. In transition – A young person (aged 15 to 29) who is:

c. In school and currently employed or unemployed (in the labour force)

d. Not in school and unemployed

e. Not in school and currently employed in a temporary and unsatisfactory job

f. Not in school and not in employment but aiming to be employed later

III. Transition not yet started – A young person (aged 15 to 29) who is:

g. Still in school and outside the labour force

h. Not in school, outside the labour force and with no intention of looking for a job

Establishing that a person has not “transited” until they are settled in a job that meets very basic criteria of stability or satisfaction, the school-to-work analytical framework introduces a new qualitative element to the standard definition of labour market transition. The definition acknowledges the transitory state of current students and the subjectivity of job satisfaction.  The transition is thus considered complete only when a young person has attained a stable job based on a written contract of duration greater than 12 months or has attained temporary job deemed satisfactory based on the young respondent’s willingness to stay in it. Young persons classified as “in transition” are the ones who have begun the transition process but who have not yet completed it. Finally, the remaining youth are the ones who have not started their transition yet. 

It is important to note that the stages of transition differ from the standard framework for labour force status. While those classified as transited are all employed, those classified as in transition may be employed, unemployed, or outside the labour force, and those for whom the transition has not yet started are necessarily classified as outside the labour force. 

The other indicator focuses on stages of transition, which can be further broken down to better understand youth transitions. The transited population is subdivided according to two types of transition:

(a) youth transited in a stable job; and

(b) youth transited in satisfactory self-employment or a satisfactory temporary job.

A similar decomposition is made for youth in transition. They are further classified into four forms: youth in transition that are

(c) in school and currently in the labour force (employed or not employed but available and looking for a job);

(d) not in school and unemployed (looking and available for a job);

(e) not in school and currently employed in a temporary and unsatisfactory job; and

(f) not in school but with the intention to be employed in the future.

Finally, the youth population that has not yet started the transition is classified into those who

(g) are still in school and outside the labour force (not employed and not available and/or looking for a job); and those who are

(h) not in school, outside the labour force and with no intention of looking for a job.

Data sources

The main data source for labour force statistics is a labour force survey or other household-based survey. These types of surveys can be designed to cover virtually the entire non-institutional population of a given country, all branches of economic activity, all sectors of the economy and all categories of workers, including the self-employed, contributing family workers, casual workers and multiple jobholders. In addition, such surveys generally provide an opportunity for the simultaneous measurement of the employed, the unemployed and persons outside the labour force in a coherent framework.

School-to-work transition surveys (SWTS) are also an important source to collect such data. The SWTS is a unique household survey instrument that generates relevant labour market information on young people aged 15 to 29 years, including longitudinal information on transitions within the labour market. The SWTS thus serves as a unique tool for demonstrating the increasingly tentative and indirect paths to decent and productive employment that today’s young men and women are facing. Since 2009 and the design of the first methodological guide, 56 school-to-work transition surveys were completed across 36 developing countries.1The Mastercard Foundation has been an important strategic partner of the ILO and the Foundation has focused its support on youth employment through the Work4Youth programme. It played a vital role in improving global labour statistics related to youth in the labour market and creating the Youthstats database. 

Finally, population censuses are another major source of data on the labour force and its components. 

Interpretation and uses

School-to-work indicators highlight the difficult situation of youth in their transition to stable employment and show the importance of developing sound, evidence-based policy responses to improve young people’s labour market access. Together with the other YouthSTATS indicators published on ILOSTAT, the school-to-work transition indicators aim at supporting governments and social partners in designing and implementing effective youth employment policies. These include, among others, investment in demand-side policies to increase the number of decent work opportunities available to young people, supported by supply-side interventions to give young people the competencies needed to fully take advantage of new opportunities in the labour market.

School-to-work transition data show a great deal of variation between countries especially based on their level of development. While in higher income countries the first transition is more likely to be into stable wage employment and higher educated youth are more likely to transition successfully, in lower-income countries young people who have transited into employment are often those with little education or who have moved directly from school into irregular employment, often self-employment. Also, there are great disparities between young men and women, with young women facing significantly higher barriers to a successful transition to stable employment, and being far more likely to remain stuck in transition or out of any transition process.


It is important to note that the school-to-work transition indicators are not intended to be a normative framework. One cannot say that all young people in the transited category have transited to a decent job. In fact, in some countries, many young people in self-employment, which includes own-account workers and contributing family workers, are among the lowest earners. Yet, they have expressed a degree of satisfaction with their job and are therefore likely to have finished their transition on this basis. In principle, having transited should indicate an efficient labour market, capable of absorbing young school leavers. However, young people who have completed their labour market transition may also be the most disadvantaged, as they have perhaps not pursued advanced education or have moved directly from school into irregular employment that could continue for a lifetime. 

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