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FEATURE STORYFebruary 16, 2023

COVID-19's Hidden Blow on Young People Is Massive

Students learning in school in Mojokerto, Indonesia

Students learning in school in Mojokerto, Indonesia

Copyright: Akhmad Dody/World Bank


  • COVID-19 caused a hidden but massive collapse in the human capital of young people at critical moments in the life cycle.
  • The impact was much greater in low and middle income countries and poorer households, threatening to reduce lifetime earnings and increase inequality for decades to come.
  • A new World Bank report details the extent of COVID’s blow to human capital accumulation for people under the age of 25—the generation which will make up 90 percent of the prime-age workforce in 2050.

A new World Bank report “Collapse and Recovery: How Covid-19 Eroded Human Capital and What to Do About It,” shows how the pandemic destroyed human capital at critical moments of the life cycle for an entire generation of young people in poorer countries.

It is the first comprehensive review of global data for young people in low- and middle- income countries who were under the age of 25 during the pandemic. It shows that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted human capital accumulation at critical moments in the life cycle, derailing development for millions of children and young people in low- and middle-income countries.

“People under the age of 25 today—that is, those most affected by the erosion of human capital—will make up more than 90 percent of the prime-age workforce in 2050,” said Norbert Schady, Chief Economist for Human Development at the World Bank and a lead author of the report. “Reversing the pandemic’s impact on them and investing in their future should be a top priority for governments. Otherwise, these cohorts will represent not just a lost generation but rather multiple lost generations.”

With data and analysis for 2-3 countries per region, the report builds on dozens of studies and offers original research and new findings. It also provides clear policy options with a discussion on prioritization considering the importance of lifecycle transitions, different baselines and levels of pandemic-related damage, current and future fiscal tradeoffs, and other non-fiscal constraints.

Today, a focus on human capital is more important than ever. Just as a swift and strong macroeconomic policy response helped many countries climb out of the pandemic recession, a similarly rapid and robust effort can help societies recover from the less visible collapse in human capital.
Mamta Murthi, Human Development Vice President
Mamta Murthi
Human Development Vice President

In this video, report co-authors and Human Development Senior Economists Joana Silva and Alaka Holla give an overview of the findings. Watch them describe the scope of this hidden blow to human capital and what can be done to recover the losses.


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