The State of Youth in the Asia Pacific: The new CSIS-IYF Global Youth Wellbeing Index

By Nicole Goldin & Payal Patel


With the launch of the Global Youth Wellbeing Index (Index) on April 3, 2014, the policy and development world is reminded of the urgency of tapping into the power, talents, and energy of young people. Youth comprise a quarter of the world’s population, making it ever more imperative that investments in young people are at the forefront for policymakers, implementers, and public and private sector donors.

The Index spans six interconnected areas of youths’ lives and is comprised of 40 indicators. This inaugural Index includes 30 regional and income level diverse countries representing nearly 70 percent of the world’s youth population. Included in the Index are nine Asia-Pacific countries- Australia (1st), South Korea (3rd), Japan (7th), Thailand (10th), Vietnam (11th), China (14th), Indonesia (19th), Philippines (22nd), and India (26th).

The objective of this Index is aimed at increasing and promoting thought and action around critical issues facing youth today. We know the importance of data in measuring progress and this Index compiles publicly available data to holistically assess how countries are faring in creating environments and providing opportunities that enable youth to thrive and feel optimistic about their state of affairs.

The release of the Index is timely and comes in the midst of post-2015 Millennium Development Goal discussions, making the case for the inclusion of youth specific goals and targets. Broadly, the results show that nearly 85 percent of young people are living in countries that fall in the bottom tiers of youth wellbeing rankings with below average composite scores – below 12th ranked Peru. The countries in the Asia-Pacific region rank in all four tiers of wellbeing with income levels generally aligning with wellbeing levels however, with the exception of Vietnam, which performs in the upper middle tier. The data also shows that though high income level and OECD countries do well overall, youth are not necessarily thriving in all areas of their lives.  In Japan for example, youth are faring poorly (23rd) in citizen participation due to the absence of a youth policy, lower volunteer rates and a general feeling of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, less wealthy countries show strong success in certain areas, Vietnam for example does well in health (6th) and Thailand in economic opportunity (6th). Other notable results from the region include:

  • South Korea tops the information and communications technology domain
  • India is in the top three for citizen participation
  • Australia ranks first overall and tops the education domain
  • Japan is second for safety and security and economic opportunity
  • China ranks in the top ten for economic opportunity
  • Indonesian youth express significantly lower stress levels
  • Philippines score high on road safety due to lower youth mortality from road injuries

As the United States continues toward implementing a rebalance strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, it is increasingly more apparent the value of addressing the needs and aspirations of the area’s youth in order to achieve the objectives outlined. In a region with over 65 percent of the population below the age of 35, ensuring youth’s success and satisfaction would be a wise decision. The Index shows that many young people in the region express less optimism in certain areas of their lives. Generally youth are expressing greater concern with violence, feel less valued by society and have lower wealth expectations. If a negative outlook continues to grow, these countries stand a chance of seeing a rising vocalization or demonstrations of dissatisfaction.

As a key stakeholder for the Index, young people can and should use the results to better advocate for themselves. Using the Index as a tool to strengthen and expand their positions, platforms for engagement include the APEC Youth Summit or President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative where young leaders can deepen their engagements with the United States.

Developing a prosperous Asia-Pacific region will require the inclusion of young people. Without taking into account youths’ needs and perspectives, a large subset of the population will be left behind and strategies to improve economic conditions, education, health, security, infrastructure and democratic development will remain unrealized. However, there are examples of successful initiatives. For example, China’s ardent efforts to discourage smoking contribute to lower tobacco use rates amongst young people.  As we all know, the prosperity of the Asia Pacific is critical to the United States’ own initiatives to create jobs and support economic growth. The stakes for the world are high if the region’s youth assets are left on the table.

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Dr. Nicole Goldin is Director, Youth, Prosperity, and Security Initiative in the Project on Prosperity and Development at CSIS. Follow her on twitter @nicolegoldin. Ms. Payal Patel is the research and project associate for the Global Youth Wellbeing Index.  


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