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Major Challenges Facing Youth In Developing Economies Economics Essay


The challenge of keeping youths engaged meaningfully has been a major concern of governments in the developing nations. This paper x-rays the major challenges facing youths apart from unemployment. These include but not limited to inequality, corruption, poverty, cultism, human trafficking, emigration, drug addiction and trafficking as well as (HIV/AIDS) endemic. The authors stressed the need to encourage youths to engage in entrepreneurship undertakings and further highlighted the benefits of youth self reliant such as development of entrepreneurial and managerial skills, evenly distribution of national wealth, exploitation of untapped industrial opportunities, moderation of rural-urban migration, high value added to the economy, promotion of indigenous technology, and improvement in balance of trade. Hence, the authors recommended institutional support for youth self reliance; inclusion of entrepreneurship studies in high school and undergraduate curricula; tax incentives to young entrepreneurs; and financing of sporting activities to check social vices among youth.

Key words: Youth;; Self Reliance Programmes; Unemployment ; Developing Economy

1.0 Introduction

According to the projection of the United Nations Population Division (UNDP, 1993), currently young people between ages 15-24 constitute 18 percent of world’s population at 1.1 billion and the world is very close to reach the peak of historically highest youth population (Lam, 2007). These young people, across the globe, especially in developing countries, where the population density and growth is also highest, face unprecedented challenges in their capacity to access public resources and family resources, stemmed from waves of cultural and economic globalization. Most critical issues for youth development are poverty, health practices, gender biases, education, employment, social responsibilities and good citizenship, juvenile delinquency etc (World Youth Report, 2003).

Demand of skilled workers in the knowledge economy has created hindrance for a large portion of world youth, especially in developing countries, where higher education system has not been able to realize sufficient ‘value addition’ in terms of enhancing the employability in the new age labor market. A staggering 400 million young people around the world are unable to find decent work. Worthy of note is that, today’s youth find themselves in an era, where for the first time in the modern civilization, purely economic value of higher education has reached an unprecedented low proportion. Shariff (1998) observed that adults engaged in self employment more than the youth, especially in developed countries. This is notable in countries whose economic growth rate is slow or stagnant. He observed further that self employment is much more appreciated among Sub-Sahara African than in other countries of the world.

The youth are a major source of human capital and key agents for socio cultural, economic, and political development as well as technological innovation worldwide. Their imaginations, ideas, energies and visions are essential for the continuing development of societies. Their training, development, intellectual perspectives and productive abilities are key determinants of the progress and future of societies.

To capture the significance of youth in the economic development process, Central Bank of Nigeria’s governor notes in 2011 that the current economic development efforts will not amount to anything if the youth who are the real economic agent are not part of the economic transformation. He notes further that robust economic growth will only be achieved if the youth are adequately empowered, which is the only path to sustainable economic development.

2.0 Conceptual clarification

2.1 Youth. There is hardly any universally acceptable definition of youth. Youthfulness need not be exclusively determined by age. Other factors, like economic, cultural and environmental conditions may be equally important in defining youth. The continuing debate on who is a ‘youth’ has not resolved the confusion surrounding the concept. In many African countries, laws define ‘adulthood’ as commencing from age of 21, although recently, there have been attempts to lower the age to 18 years (Curtain, 2000). Sociologically, ‘youth’ denotes an interface between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’. Youth, as a social group are defined in terms of age. Hence, the majority of youth has been variously defined as ranging from the ages of 10-11 years to 35 years. The United Nations Organisation (UNO) has come up with a specification of age bracket 15-24 years as youth, while the Commonwealth uses the age category of 15-29 years. For the purpose of this paper, youth is defined as young women and men who fall within the age bracket of 15& 35 years. Furthermore, anyone who is acknowledged by deed as identifying with and committed to youth development may be recognised as youth.

It has been recognised the world over that youth constitute the most important human resource potential that can contribute significantly to the overall development of a nation. The youth constitute the driving force of society, the spirit of today and the hope for the future. In addition, youth constitute the largest segment, they are also the most socially active and productive sector.

The educational system has not adequately equipped young people with the relevant skills, knowledge and cultural values needed to face the challenges of after school life. As a result, young people cannot find placement in the white-collar job market; neither are they able to create economic opportunities for themselves in the informal sector. There is therefore the need to relate the educational system to the job market. United Nations Organisation (1995: 11) therefore notes in that:

“Young people in all countries are both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation. Their imaginations, ideas, considerable energies and visions are essential for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. The problems that young people face as well as their visions and aspirations are essential components of the challenges and prospects of today’s societies and future generations”

Mobilizing the creativity and passion of young men and women, and recognizing the unique perspective of youth on their current and future needs are quickly becoming national and international priorities. Globally, youth are eager to contribute their quota through investment of their energies in the socio-economic development of the societies. In addition, they desire to be absorbed into socio-economic system in order to change the old order.

In terms of sheer numbers, youth represent a significant portion of the global community. Today, approximately 20 per cent of the world’s population is in the 15 to 24 age group, and in many developing countries this group will soon constitute 50 per cent of the population. In addition, 60 per cent of the world’s youth population, or over 600 million young people, reside in the Asia-Pacific region (Kenyon, 1998).

Linked directly to these figures is the growing recognition of the importance of youth development at both the national, regional and international levels. Youth constitute a unique group within society. While they are often considered one of the most vulnerable groups within the social fabric, they are also regarded as the greatest source of hope for the nation’s future. Youth represent a significant portion of the world’s population: it is estimated that the global youth population in 1995 was over 1 billion and comprised 18 per cent of the world’s population, of whom 84 per cent lived in developing countries. Those under the age of 30 could form as much as 55 per cent of the world’s population by the year 2005. In the least-developed countries of the world, the figure is closer to 70 per cent. (Kenyon, 1998)

2.2 Self Reliance. The concept of self reliance is located centrally within the discourse of community development and is connected to related concepts like self-help, independence, mutual-help, indigenous participation and rural development. It advocates the need for people to improve their condition using local initiatives and resources in their own hands. The concept is fast being accepted as a new formula for community development because of its widespread acceptance in the development planning of most African countries. The concept of self-reliance has the tendency to give greater stimulus and cohesiveness to community development in these countries (Anyanwu, 1992). According Fonchingong & Fonjong (2003), self-reliance is situated within the discourse of community development and is connected to related concepts like self-help, mutual help, indigenous participation and rural development. It champions the need for people to better their lots using local strategies and resources at their disposal. The definition assumes that youth use the resources at their disposal to proffer solutions to the challenges peculiar to their group and confronting them persistently. They also want to realize their dreams and be at the fore front of developing the communities.

Anyanwu (1992) contends that in most African countries, community development has depended significantly on voluntary cooperative efforts. This follows a traditional trait that clearly underscores the virtue of self-reliance. This explains the emerging trend in community development, which sees it as an important point of take-off for better living. The emphasis is to involve groups of people in planned programmes from which they may gain skills that will enable them to cope more successfully with the problems of their everyday lives.

Self-reliance is thus “development on the basis of a country’s (region’s) own resources, involving its populations based on the potentials of its cultural values and traditions” (Galtung, 1980). Communities and individual people define their own development according to their own needs, values and aspirations (Preiswerk, 1980).

Local-level development provides a major force in activating the utilization of local resources (land, water, labour) and therefore constitutes one of the most effective methods of promoting people’s participation in determining their own development. The needs for local alternatives and self-reliance have been voiced in more explicit terms by other scholars. For example, Brett (1988) has called for cooperative and voluntary alternatives, while Sandbrook (1985) has emphasized the need for “small-scale community solutions”. In its fundamental sense, self-reliance is defined as a state of mind that regards one’s own mental and material resources as the primary stock to draw on in the pursuit of one’s objectives, and finds emotional fulfillment not only in achieving the objectives but of having achieved them primarily by using one’s own resources.

2.3 Unemployment. Unemployment is a social issue that every nation deals with regularly. Even the most advanced economies still battle with the issue of unemployment. In fact the classical economists averred that there can never be a situation of total employment in any economy. However, responsible governments must strive at all times to keep unemployment rate as low as possible. According to Fajana (2000), unemployment is a state of worklessness/idleness experienced by persons who as members of the labour force perceive themselves are perceived by others as capable of work. Unemployment is a situation where those who are willing and able to work cannot find full employment or even if it is partial employment. The unemployment situation in Nigeria is unsettling. Statistic shows that almost 75% of those who are able and willing to work cannot find gainful employment, especially among young graduate/school leavers.

Fajana (2000) categorizes unemployment into six namely structural, frictional, seasonal, cyclical, residual, and technological.

Types of Unemployment






This occurs when there is a change in the structure of an industry or economic activities of the country. Change in taste, change in technology, change in demand are some of the types of changes that may occur. It is mostly found in Asia and Africa. In other words, it occurs due to mismatch between the demand for labour and the ability of the workers.



The unemployed may remain so on account of shortage of raw materials, or mechanical defects in working plants. Therefore, the better the economy is doing, the lower the chances of this type of unemployment occurring.



This is due to seasonal variations in the activities of particular industries caused by climatic changes, changes in fashions or by the inherent nature of such industries. In the tropical region, ice factories are less active in rainy season because of low demand for ice.



This is otherwise known as Keynesian unemployment or demand deficient unemployment which is due to the operation of the business cycle. This arises at a time when the aggregate effective commodity demand falls below the full employment level of output.



This is caused by personal factors such as old age, physical or mental disability, poor work attitudes and inadequate training.



This is caused by changes in techniques of production.

Source: Fajana, S. (2000) Functioning of Nigerian Labour Market, Lagos: Labofin and company

3.0 Major Challenges facing Youth in developing economies

The declining growth and economic restructuring has worsened the employment situation among the youth in most of the developing countries and most especially in Africa. Youth unemployment has increasingly come to be as one of the most serious socio-economic problems currently confronting many developing countries.

It is difficult to provide accurate statistics of youth unemployment in developing countries in general and Africa in particular, as available estimates of world unemployment face the conceptual limitation. Nonetheless, existing estimates indicate that in Sub-Saharan Africa, urban unemployment affects between 15 to 20 percent of the workforce (ILO, 2005). According to this estimates, young people comprise 40 to 75 percent of the total number of unemployed.

Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2010)

According to Awogbenle and Iwuamadi (2010), the statistics from the Manpower Board and the Federal Bureau of Statistics showed that Nigeria has a youth population of 80 million, representing 60% of the total population of the country. Also, 64 million of them are unemployed, while 1.6 million are under-employed. The 1990-2000 data on youth unemployment indicated that secondary school graduates constituted the largest group of the unemployed. There is also 40% of the unemployment rate is among urban youth aged 20 – 24 and 31% of the rate is among those aged 15-19. Furthermore, two-thirds of the urban unemployed are ranged from 15-24 years old. Curiously, the educated unemployed tended to be young males with few dependents. Awogbenle and Iwuandi also observed that that there is no consistent trend of unemployment rates in Nigeria. An increase in one or two years is sometimes followed by a decline in the subsequent years.

Table 1: Nigeria Unemployment Rates by Age Group and Sex


Age Group

Unemployment Rate













Gender Analysis







Source: Ruhl, O. (2009) “Nigeria’s Youth: Turning Challenge into Opportunity. World Bank Statistics on Youth Unemployment, March, 2009.

Table 2: Table Youth Unemployment Rate in Nigeria 2000-2011








































Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2011)

According to Abdullahi (2012), the Nigerian Minister of Sports, out of Nigeria’s 150 million population, 40 million are unemployed. As 45% of the population is between the ages of 15 to 40 years, this means unemployment mainly affects the youth. He revealed that the alarming situation has socio-economic implications considering the fact that Nigeria has 45% of the jobless population are between the ages of 15-40 years and due to the extremely low life expectancy of 45 years, only 3% of Nigerians manage to reach the ages of 60 and above. Nigerian youth are therefore the hardest hit by the menace of unemployment. Hence, the increase rate of kidnapping, youth unrest and most significantly, an extremely unstable social economic structure that has hitherto been bedeviling Nigeria.

The percentage of unemployed labour force is disheartening not to mention rate of unemployment among youth. Apart from the figures released early this year by the National Bureau of Statistics, which puts unemployment rate in 2011 at 29.3 per cent, the situation has over the years grown from bad to worse. From 2000 until 2011, the unemployment rate averaged 18.82 per cent, reaching an all time high of 23.90 per cent in December of 2011 representing about 20.3 million Nigerian youth who are currently unemployed. The situation is compounded daily as institutions of higher learning churn out fresh graduates to add to the already saturated labour market. The percentage would have been higher save for the governments’ efforts to reduce the unemployment rate among graduates from the nation’s universities through various programmes such as National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Poverty Alleviation Programme (NAPEP), Youth Enterprise With New  Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) to mention but a few.

Some identifiable factors causing youth unemployment in Nigeria these include but not limited to:

Ineffective mechanisms for overcoming the challenges of cyclical and structural youth (18 to 24 years) unemployment in Nigeria and to alleviate poverty at all levels of governance.

Going by the 2006 census in Nigeria, the nation’s population was put at140,431,790 and projections for the future indicate that the population could be over 180 million by the year 2020,given the annual growth rate of 3.2 percent (National Population Commission & and ICF Macro, 2009:3). Rapid population growth is another major factor causing youth unemployment.

Dysfunctional educational system in curricula-structure does not promote youth entrepreneurship, innovative skills and virile apprenticeship schemes. Instead, most graduates of Nigerian education system lack basic skills with which to enter into labour market. Most graduates leave university with the thinking that they must seek employment in large organisations.

Most functionaries in public and private sectors are largely bereft of ideas of blending education, training and learning for resolving youth unemployment menace. This is why most government programmes are yet to achieve the desired results of reducing youth unemployment.

Corruption has been the bane of development in Nigeria and it has impacted negatively in the industrialisation process initiated by successive governments. It has attained an endemic level with public office holders paying lip service to its eradication because they are part of the beneficiaries.

Poverty of political commitment towards youth empowerment and innovative approaches at local, state and federal levels is another cause of youth unemployment. There are no verifiable statistics of actual labour shortages, employment, under-employment and vacancies analyses that can guide national planning.

In addition, in Nigeria loanable funds that youth can draw from to invest are not accessible. Although, government, banks and other financial institutions would tell you that funds are available for entrepreneurship adventure. Accessing the funds has not been easy.

Figure 2: Spiraling General Unemployment Rate Growing at 16% per year


Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2010)

Figure 3 : Youth Unemployment 3X General Unemployment

Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2010)

Apart from the major challenges of unemployment, inequality, corruption, poverty, cultism, human trafficking and emigration are other challenges facing developing economies, Nigeria inclusive. Despite Nigeria’s decades of development efforts, both the gap between the poor and the rich countries and the inequalities within states and nations have widened. Poverty simply means inadequacy of income to meet such basic needs as food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare etc. Poverty leads to malnutrition, sickness, illiteracy, unemployment, low status of men and women, immorality, crime, and exposure to environmental risks, limited access to assets, social services, and political power.

Unemployment and poverty lead to psychological disorders, depression, despondency, suicides and divorces. While relative poverty causes envy, jealousy and self-depreciation, mass unemployment and persistent poverty which could lead to socio-political unrest and revolution. Thus, unemployment, inequality and poverty have economic, social and political implications.

4.0 Significance of Youth Self Reliance

There is an increased concern, nationally and internationally, for youth issues, responsibilities and rights and also widespread consensus on the invaluable role of youth in the development process. Yet youth are invariably victims of exclusion from governance, decision-making and development process, which impact negatively on their desires for self reliance and self realization. The Human Development Report (UNDP, 1993) echoes the need for people to participate in their own development, stressing that people’s participation is becoming the central issue in the face of current challenges facing the world for development.

It is now widely accepted that there are many good reasons to promote self reliance among young people. Entrepreneurship undertakings are probably one the most effective means of making youth self reliant. While caution should be exercised so that entrepreneurship is not seen as a panacea for curing all society’s social ills, many experts such as Curtain (2000) warn, it has a number of potential benefits. An obvious, and perhaps the most significant one, is that it creates employment for the young person who owns the business.

Figure 4: Young working poor in selected countries

(Estimates for youth and adult cohorts), in percentage

Source: ILO, Global Employment Trends for Youth. Geneva, August, 2010.

In addition to the above, youth self reliance (YSR) will achieve the under listed among developing economies.

The indigenous entrepreneur and managerial skills needed to transform the economy are developed.

Labour intensive industry is boosted by YSR, which helps government to achieve the employment and income distribution objective.

Encouragement of youth to be self reliant enhances the exploitation of untapped industrial opportunities.

The evenly distribution of wealth and regional economic balance objective of government is enhanced as the menace of rural/urban migration, which exacerbates urban congestion is checked.

There is higher value added to the domestic economies thereby checking the dumping of products from developed in developing economies.

Indigenous technology is promoted through youth self reliant programmes.

The above will definitely improve the balance of trade and payment of the developing economies as well as strengthening the local currency coupled with the benefit of promoting exportation and preventing over reliance on a single commodity to earn foreign exchange. Over dependency on oil revenue has been the bane of industrialization in Nigeria.

5.0 Recommendations & Conclusion

In line with the above observations, it is recommended that youth entrepreneurship programmes should be made compulsory right from the secondary school. More so, curricula in the higher institutions should be redesigned to capture the current reality of producing job creators and not job seekers. There should also be institutional support for youth entrepreneurship programmes at all tiers of government; local, state, and federal. Cheap funds made available and accessible to interested young entrepreneurs is a necessity for the development of self reliant programmes among youth.

Data on youth unemployment are not accessible, if they are available. Many of the policy makers are not equipped with facts and figures. Many a times, they rely on sources that are not reliable in formulating policies and taking decisions relating to youth empowerment. Government institutions should equip to collate data frequently and make them accessible at any point in time. If there are authentic data, planning and paying social security of not less than fifty thousand naira ((#50) should not be difficult considering the amount of financial resources being wasted public office holders.

The prevailing harsh economic environment in Nigeria is a disincentive to any interested young entrepreneurs and so should be made conducive as much as possible. For example multiple taxation should be eliminated through the harmonization of tax system in the country. Infrastructure facilities are abysmal failure, especially the electricity around which modern industrialization and developmental strategy revolve. More than enough megawatts of electricity should be generated in the country. The appalling situation of electricity generation has turned many youth to criminals in Nigeria.

Motivating youth to acquire technical skills should top the priority of any government, Nigeria not exempted. Apart from free tuition, graduates of technical colleges should be absolved into the government service and or private organisations. Able and willing youth should be encouraged to contribute their quota to national economic development efforts. Security of lives and properties must be guaranteed in Nigeria. Governments’ efforts to woo foreign investors that will help to ignite the fire of economic revival will not yield any fruits if the issue of security is not addressed.

There should be an increased youth and orphans self-reliance, self-discipline, social responsibility and spirit of adventure. Youth should be helped start income generating activities for their livelihoods to reduce dependency syndrome. Involvement of religious organisations in youth self reliance programmes should be encouraged. This is imperative in view of the fact that many of them have excess funds they can use since they do not pay tax. This will be counted as part of their social responsibility efforts to the society.

Opportunities to acquire overseas training in form of exchange programmes among regional governments e.g. Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) should be provided for youth after completing skill acquisition course. Suffice it to note that regional integration will be a great impetus for youth in countries which fall the same region.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and natural resources. The challenges facing the youth and related issues are very critical because of the emerging trend of youth unemployment, political and religious unrest. Hence, youth self reliant programmes should occupy the front burner of the federal, state, and local governments. Nigeria, arguably the most populous black nation in the world, needs sincere analysis of the current unemployment situation in the country as well as other challenges confronting the youth. The scientific analysis of this menace will lead to honest policy formulation, implementation, and monitoring of youth self reliant programmes which will eventually stem the tide of youth crimes and guarantee the future of the country.

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