Young people - education and employment patterns

From Statistics Explained

Data from October 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

The analysis presented below focuses on the young population aged 18-24 years in the European Union (EU). After the age of 18, compulsory schooling ends in all European countries; thereafter, young Europeans may be in a number of different situations regarding education and employment.

The article, based on Labour force survey 2009 data for the EU as well as candidate and EFTA countries, tries to answer questions like:

  • How many young people are students (e.g. are in education) and how many are combining studies and work?
  • Which proportion of young people has left education and is working?
  • How many are those outside education and without employment?
Table 1:Population aged 18-24, by educational and employment status, 2009 - Source: EU-LFS
Figure 1: Distribution of the population according to their educational and employment status, by age, EU-27, 2009 (%)

Main statistical findings

The population of young people aged 18-24 (nearly 43 million in the EU-27, in 2009) can be divided into four broad categories as regards their situation concerning education and labour status (see table 1). Please note that education includes formal and non-formal education.

  • In 2009, in the EU-27, 16.4 million young persons aged 18-24 were exclusively in education, accounting for 39 % of the age class.
  • Those who were only in employment (for at least 1 hour a week) numbered 12.2 million (29 % of the age class 18-24).
  • Around 7 million of the 18-24-year-olds (16.5 %) are studying and working at the same time. Some students work in conjunction with their education (e.g. as apprentices or trainees), others do it to gain experience, to fund their studies or simply to earn money.
  • Another almost 7 million (16 %) have left education and are without employment. A little more than a half of them are unemployed and the rest are economically inactive.

The composition of the population according to the four above categories (Figure 1) evolves with age. In the EU-27, in 2009, almost all 15-year­-olds were exclusively students, whereas more than 90 % of those aged 29 had already left education.

The highest proportions of persons combining both education and employment (15-17 %) can be observed between the ages of 17 and 24 years. In this group, there are "students working" and "workers studying", including also apprentices and trainees.

Exclusively in education

39 % of 18-24-year-olds in the EU-27 were exclusively in education in 2009

Figure 2: Young people aged 18-24 years being exclusively in education, by level of education attended, 2009 (%)

A "classic" model of transition from school to work applies when young people start working only after completing their highest level of education. In such a model, persons rarely combine education with employment.

In 2009, in the EU-27, 16.4 million young persons aged 18-24 were exclusively in education: 37.5 % of them were attending programmes below tertiary education (i.e. up to ISCED level 4) and 59 % attended tertiary education (ISCED levels 5 and 6), whereas 3.5  were in non-formal education (Figure 2). In total, in the EU-27, 39 % of the population aged between 18 and 24 had in 2009 not started their transition towards employment, i.e. they were only in education without being employed, even for one hour a week.

In the majority of European countries, most young persons aged 18-24 being exclusively in education were attending tertiary education. But the picture was different in Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Finland and Sweden, where more than 50% were still in upper-secondary education or post-secondary non-tertiary education. This reflects the differences of national educational systems (e.g. existence of many educational programmes specific for adults at ISCED level 3 or 4).

It's worth mentionning that among the young Europeans being exclusively in education, there is a proportion who is looking for a job. Students looking for a job (either unemployed or passive job seekers) accounted for more than 10  of young people being exclusively in education in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Latvia, Austria and Switzerland.

Combining education and employment

16.5 % of 18-24-year-olds combined education and employment

Figure 3: Percentage of persons aged 18-24 combining education and employment, by type of contract and part or full time job, 2009
Figure 4: Share of persons aged 18-24 being exclusively in employment, 2009 (%)
Figure 5: Share of persons aged 18-24 neither in employment nor in education, by working status, 2009 (%)

In 2009, 6.9 million young Europeans aged 18­-24 were combining education and employment (of at least one hour a week). In this respect, strong discrepancies were found between European countries (Figure 3). In Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania, combining education and employment was very rare - concerned less than 5 % of the age class. But this percentage was between 20 and 30 % in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Austria and Finland and stood even above 30 % in Denmark and the Netherlands (nearly 50 % in both countries), Germany, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

Young persons combining education and employment can be divided into two broad groups.

The first group includes those with a temporary contract covering a period of training - this is for instance the case of apprentices or trainees. In the 18-24 age group, at EU-level, 5 % had such temporary contracts (mainly at upper-secondary level). In Germany and Switzerland, this percentage was the highest - exceeded 20 %.

The second group includes students working with other types of contracts (e.g. having permanent job or temporary job for reasons other than training). The time spent by students in employment provides a broad approximation of the intensity of these two activities in young people’s lives. In countries with the higher proportions of young people combining education and employment - Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway, the majority of them worked part-time (less than 30 hours a week). They can be named "students working". Those who usually spend more than 30 hours a week at work may be qualified as ‘workers studying’. This situation is observed in particular in the countries with small proportions of young persons combining education and employment in general (many East and South countries).

Exclusively in employment

29 % of the population aged 18-24 was already exclusively in employment

In 2009, the EU-27 counted around 12.2 million young persons aged 18-24 being exclusively in employment. They accounted for nearly 29 % of the age class at EU-level, going from 19 % in Slovenia to 48 % in Malta (Figure 4). More than 30 % of the population aged 18-24 was exclusively in employment in Malta, Cyprus, Austria, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Norway.

Being in employment does not automatically mean that young people have jobs matching their qualifications or desires. In particular, if they have joined the labour market at a very young age, they may not have a sufficient education level to take up the challenges of the knowledge-based economy.

Neither in employment nor in education

Nearly 16 % of the population aged 18-24 was neither in employment nor in education

In 2009, the EU-27 counted around 6.8 million young persons aged 18-24 neither in employment, education or training ("NEET"). NEETs are of particular interest to policy-makers as most of them can presumably be considered as facing difficulties in finding a job.

At EU level, around 9 % of 18-24-year-olds were no longer in education and actively looking for a job (i.e. were unemployed) and nearly 8 % were considered as ‘inactive’ (Figure 5). Among the latter category, a very small proportion is considered as ‘passive job seekers’, i.e. looking for a job but not complying with all the conditions to be considered as unemployed according to the ILO definition.

The highest proportions of NEETs aged 18-24 who were unemployed were observed in Spain, Latvia, Ireland, Estonia, Slovakia, France and Greece (ranging from 16 % to 10 %).

The ‘inactive’ category accounted for a large share of NEETs in Bulgaria, Italy and Turkey, as well in the Netherlands and Norway. Among personal reasons, family responsibilities were a key reason for not seeking employment. In half of the Member States, looking after children or having other personal or family responsibilities were mentioned by more than one third of inactive NEET persons aged 18-24. There is a strong gender dimension in the reasons of not looking for a job. Indeed, at EU- level, and in numerous Member States, personal reasons and especially family responsibilities explained why 51 % of inactive NEET women were not looking for a job. These reasons were mentioned by only 9% of young NEET men. In contrast, the proportion of the inactive NEET population who thought that seeking employment was not worthwhile because of a lack of opportunities, was twice as high among young men as among young women.

Data sources and availability

The source of the data presented here is the Labour force survey (LFS), a large sample survey among private households which provides detailed annual and quarterly data on employment, unemployment and inactivity.
The data can be broken down along many dimensions including age, sex, educational attainment, and distinctions between permanent/temporary and full-time/part-time employment. It covers people aged 15 and over in the EU, European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – except Liechtenstein – and candidate countries.

The levels of education are described in the international standard classification of education (ISCED) which is the basis for international education statistics. The current version, ISCED 97, distinguishes seven levels of education:

  • pre-primary education (level 0);
  • primary education (level 1);
  • lower secondary education (level 2);
  • upper secondary education (level 3);
  • post-secondary non-tertiary education (level 4);
  • tertiary education (first stage) (level 5);
  • tertiary education (second stage) (level 6).

The data on young people who are neither in employment nor in education and training (NEET) corresponds to the percentage of the population of a given age group and sex who is not employed and not involved in further education or training.


In the flagship initiative "Youth on the Move", the Commission has set out how the EU can reach the EU 2020 targets in the domains of education and employment, at national and European level.

As concerns education, the education and training systems should be improved at all levels, one major aim being to reduce early leaving from education and training: indeed, more than six million young people in the EU leave education and training with lower secondary level qualifications at best. They face severe difficulties in finding work, are more often unemployed and more often dependent on welfare benefits.

With regard to employment, stronger policy efforts have to be put in place in order to improve youth employment. For example, the Youth@Work action will build contacts between young people and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) to encourage demand among SME employers for young people and, in turn, to promote working in SMEs to young people. The action will work in close cooperation with the EURES network of employment advisors and the national public employment services, which exist in each Member State.

The less favourable situation of young people, related to both topics, is covered by the Systematic Monitoring of the situation of young people not in employment, education or training ("NEET").

See also

Further Eurostat information



Educational attainment, outcomes and returns of education (edat)
Transition from education to work, early leavers from education and training (edatt)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

External links