Male Youth Who Don’t Work or Study Increase in Latin America

January 19, 2016

One in Five Youth are Ninis and most of them still women

WASHINGTON, January 19th, 2016 – Despite Latin America’s strong performance in the 2000s—with vibrant economic growth and a significant reduction in poverty and inequality—the number of youth who don’t work or study actually grew due to an increase in male “ninis.” The ninis – a term from the Spanish phrase “ni estudia ni trabaja” - today total more than 20 million, from ages 15 to 24, with two thirds of them being women, according to a new study by the World Bank.

The report, Out of School and Out of Work: Risk and Opportunities for Latin America’s Ninis, finds that Latin America’s “ninis,” who account for one in five young people in the region, need more incentives to stay in school and help in finding jobs. Only then will the region be able to take full advantage of the possibilities for economic development and poverty reduction.

“We need to provide our expanding youth population the right education and work skills to help them succeed in life,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Countries that offer high-quality education to an expanding young population and also have dynamic, well-functioning labor markets will grow and reduce poverty more rapidly.”

The report, co-authored by Rafael de Hoyos, Halsey Rogers and Miguel Székely, notes that nearly 60 percent of ninis in the region are from poor or vulnerable households in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution.

The typical Latin American nini is a woman in an urban household, although the number of female ninis in the region is actually declining thanks to greater education and employment opportunities.  It’s among male youth that the problem has surged --the entire increase of 1.8 million ninis since 1992 is due to the growth in number of male ninis.   

Among female youth, the single most important risk factor is marriage before age 18, compounded by teenage pregnancy. For men, it is early school dropout into the labor market, followed by unemployment. Without the skills to secure formal sector jobs, the youth in most cases settle for unstable jobs in the informal sector and most will likely never go back to school.

The proportion of ninis ranges from 10.9 percent of young people in Peru to more than 25 percent in Honduras and El Salvador. The highest absolute numbers of ninis are found in the countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. The large majority, more than 70 percent of the ninis, live in cities, and have low education levels.

In Colombia, Mexico, and Central America, where the share of ninis is above average, the problem can be made worse by the widespread presence of organized crime. New evidence shows the nini problem is correlated with crime and violence, heightening risks for young people and for society in general.

The proportion of children and seniors relative to the working-age population in Latin America will soon reach historical lows. To take advantage of this demographic window, Latin America must provide human capital and labor market opportunities to its growing population of young adults. If it does not, the growing number of ninis will prevent the region from earning its full demographic dividend.

Being a nini can have long-lasting negative effects on productivity by lowering wages and employment opportunities for life and hampering overall economic growth. The negative income effect can also worsen existing inequalities and obstruct social mobility and poverty reduction among poor and vulnerable households, the report says.

There are several policies to reduce the number of ninis by keeping youth from dropping out of school early, and by moving youth who are already ninis into employment. They include well-targeted conditional cash transfers, as well as to information packages to make parents and students aware of the benefits of education. In addition, targeted socio-emotional skill development to prevent violent behavior, tutoring, and entrepreneurship programs can help, complemented by early warning systems to identify youth at risk of dropping out.

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