Young people face double penalty in a slow job market

29 February 2012

The latest official unemployment figures show that unemployment among young people has soared to 22.3 per cent, higher than the recession of the 1990s, while the overall unemployment rate is nine per cent.  New research from Understanding Society, a study of more than 40,000 UK households, has examined what is driving this uneven employment pattern and finds that young people suffer from a 'double-penalty' in their attempts to find and keep a job.

The rise in youth unemployment figures is due to young people being more likely than older workers to be laid off, thus swelling the unemployment figures. But they are also less likely than older people to successfully find a new job, and so the average time they spend in unemployment has increased.

Dr Mark Taylor, a labour market researcher at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, who analysed the data, said: "Young people are particularly suffering in this recession, with unemployment currently even higher than when this survey was conducted.  The double-penalty faced by young people is due to them falling victim to the 'last-in, first-out' policies that are used in practice by many employers. Then, on the other hand, young people tend to have accumulated fewer job-specific skills.  Employers may feel that they lose less by letting young workers go and may also choose not to hire them because of the costs associated with training them.

Data collected regularly by Understanding Society, and its predecessor study, the British Household Panel Study (BHPS), both funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), show precisely how young people are more adversely affected and why their numbers in the dole queue continue to grow:

  • Before the latest recession, about 50 per cent of 16-24 year olds who were not in work in 2006 had found a job in 2007.

  • This halved during the recession, with only 27 per cent of young people who were out of work in 2009 making the transition into employment by 2010

  • In contrast, the proportion of 25-44 year olds entering employment between 2009 and 2010 fell by just three per cent compared to 2006-07, while year-on-year transition rates into employment among people aged 45 or above actually increased.

Young people were also more likely to be laid off than older people, and this increased during the recession

  • Seven per cent of young people in employment in 2006 were not in employment, education or training (NEET) in 2007.

  • This increased during the latest recession, as 11 per cent of employed young people in 2009 became NEETs in 2010. In contrast, the proportion of people aged 25 to 44 in employment who found themselves out of work increased from three per cent in 2006-07 to 4.5 per cent in 2009-10, and from 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent for those aged 45 and above.

Dr Taylor continues: "With unemployment among young people now higher than the recession of the late 1990s, particularly among the least qualified, the most important challenge for the Government is keeping these young people attached to the job market or involved in productive activities such as education or training. Past research shows that periods of unemployment at any stage of your working life has long term negative impacts on future job prospects and earnings, so the evidence indicates these young people will continue to be at a disadvantage".

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors:

  1. Mark Taylor is a Reader at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The findings above are taken from the article 'Employment transitions and the recession' from Understanding Society: Findings 2012'.
  2. Understanding Society is a world leading study of the socio-economic circumstances in 40,000 UK households. The study allows for deeper analysis of a wide range of sections of the population as they respond to regional, national and international change. Understanding Society will greatly enhance our insight into the pathways that influence peoples longer term occupational trajectories; their health and well-being, their financial circumstances and personal relationships. Understanding Society also breaks new ground with its interdisciplinary focus. The study will capture biomedical data on 20,000 participants and place this alongside rich social histories, helping us weigh the extent to which people's environment influences their health. More information is available at www.understandingsociety.org.uk
  3. Understanding Society has been commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is supported by a total of 11 Government departments and administrations. The Research Team is led by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex. The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) delivers the study.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk