To provide insights into how young people may fare in the current economic downturn, this study examines the experience of youth in a previous downturn. While it is recognised that each downturn is unique in its own way, and that the pattern of the global financial crisis is different to earlier downturns, these previous experiences are still informative for the current policies. In particular, this study examines the impacts of economic conditions on youth unemployment and education outcomes, using eight waves of the Australian Youth Survey 1989-1996.
About the research
As new entrants to the labour market, young people generally fare less well in economic downturns. They experience much sharper rises in unemployment rates and, relative to more experienced older workers, slightly longer periods of recovery. With this increased risk of being unemployed and of potentially lower earnings, young people face decisions about whether to seek employment or to undertake additional education and training.
To provide insights into how young people may fare in the current economic downturn, this study examines the experience of young people between 16–26 years of age in a previous downturn. Specifically, the study seeks to tease out the effects of the major economic downturn of 1990—91 on young people’s employment and their participation in education.
The dataset used for the analysis in this paper consists of eight waves of the Australian Youth Survey (AYS) 1989—96 — the predecessor to the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) — which covers the previous economic cycle and therefore includes the downturn of 1990—91. It is rare in Australia to have this span of longitudinal data for examining long-term trends and the effects of cyclical events such as recessions.
- Young people are clearly more vulnerable in the labour market during economic downturns by comparison with the older population, with young men feeling the impact more than young women (with a one-percentage-point increase in the adult unemployment rate associated with a 1.7-percentage-point increase for males, compared with a 1.2-percentage-point increase for females).
- In poor economic times young people ‘retreat’ into education, in particular undertaking additional secondary education. Again, this effect is more marked for young men (with a one-percentage increase in the adult unemployment rate associated with a 2.9% increase in school participation for males aged 17, compared with a 1.5% increase for females aged 17).
- The greater impact of tougher economic times on young men’s employment is likely to be a reflection of their working in occupations affected by business cycles.
- In examining whether the risk of being unemployed varies across young people of different backgrounds, the analysis undertaken in this paper did not find statistically significant results.
Managing Director, NCVER
The Global Financial Crisis marked the end of 15 years of strong economic growth in Australia. While the immediate impact of this crisis on the Australian economy was not as substantial as on most other advanced economies, it nevertheless resulted in a marked increase in unemployment.
As new entrants to the labour market, young people generally fare less well in economic downturns. They experience much sharper rises in unemployment rates and slightly longer periods of recovery, relative to more experienced older workers.
In economic downturns, with an increased risk of being unemployed and potentially lower earnings, young people face decisions about whether to seek employment or undertake additional education and training. Given the reduced opportunity cost of education, educational participation among young people is expected to increase in economic downturns.
To provide insights into how young people may fare in the current economic downturn, this study examines the experience of youth in a previous downturn. While it is recognised that each downturn is unique and that the pattern of the Global Financial Crisis is different from earlier downturns, these previous experiences are still useful for informing the current policies. In particular, this study examines the impacts of economic conditions on youth unemployment and education outcomes.
The dataset used in this paper consists of eight waves of the Australian Youth Survey (AYS) 1989—96. Survey participants were aged between 16 and 26 years. The dataset covers the previous economic cycle, which includes the major economic downturn of 1990—91. We use the state-level adult unemployment rate as our main indicator of economic conditions. Specifically, the study seeks to tease out the effects of economic downturns on young people’s risk of unemployment and on their participation in education, and to answer two related research questions:
- How do economic conditions and background characteristics affect young people’s risk of unemployment, and does the impact of poorer economic conditions vary across different background groups?
- Is there evidence that young people retreat into full-time education and training in times of poorer economic conditions?
The impact of economic conditions on labour force outcomes
The results of the analysis indicate that a one-percentage-point increase in the state-level adult unemployment rate is associated with a 1.7-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate for young males aged up to 26 years and a 1.2-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate for young females aged up to 26 years. These results suggest that young people are indeed much more vulnerable to economic downturns by comparison with the older population and that the adverse impacts of economic downturns are particularly strong for young males.
Alternative modelling using employment-to-population ratios indicates that a one-percentage-point decrease in the adult state-level employment-to-population ratio was associated with 2.3-percentage-point fall in the employment-to-population ratio for young men and a 1.4-percentage-point fall for young women.
These results clearly demonstrate the sensitivity of the labour force outcomes of youth and in particular young men to changes in economic conditions.
Other important results include:
- Health is an important determinant of unemployment: having a work-limiting disability significantly increases the probability of being unemployed for both males and females.
- Completing Year 12 and attending a non-public secondary school reduce unemployment incidence, with stronger effects for females than for males.
Background characteristics, in particular, migrant status and parental occupation status, are strong predictors of unemployment incidence, after controlling for individual educational attainment, specifically:
- Being born in a non-English speaking country, relative to being Australian-born, is associated with an 11 to 12-percentage-point higher rate of unemployment.
- Living in a family at age 14 years with a parent employed in an unskilled job generates an estimated unemployment rate some 4—7 percentage points higher than if the parent was highly skilled.
- If no parent was employed, the gap increases to some 9—13 percentage points.
A specific focus of the research was to examine the extent to which these characteristics do not merely affect relative labour market outcomes but also whether the impact of poorer economic conditions varies across different groups. To do this the study estimated an alternative model, in which these background variables were interacted with the unemployment rate as a measure of the economic cycle. Since this analysis was largely inconclusive, we refrain from drawing strong conclusions from the estimation analysis.
The impact of economic conditions on participation in full-time education
A similar approach was used to model the impact on educational participation. We found that the propensity to participate in full-time education is positively related to the unemployment rate. Specifically, a one-percentage-point increase in the state-level adult unemployment rate is associated with:
- a 2.9-percentage-point increase in school participation for young males aged 17 years and younger and a 1.5-percentage-point increase for young women in this age group
- a 1.3-percentage-point increase in full-time post-school education participation for both young males and females aged 18 years and over.
There is clear micro-level evidence of young people ‘retreating’ into education in poor economic conditions, again with this effect being most marked for males. Furthermore, changes in economic conditions are more likely to affect the educational participation of those aged 17 or younger. By implication, school participation seems to be more sensitive than post-school education to these changes. The other main results can be summarised as follows:
- Completing Year 12 and attending non-government schools increase subsequent post-school education for both males and females.
- Health is also an important variable: having a work-limiting disability reduces the probability of undertaking full-time study.
- Family backgrounds are also important predictors of post-school education. Young migrants from non-English speaking countries are much more likely to participate in education.
- Young people whose parents are in highly skilled professions are more likely to study. On the other hand, the probability of youth from jobless households studying does not differ from that of young people from unskilled households. Similarly, youth with highly educated parents are also more likely to study, as are those young people who attend non-government schools.
On the whole, the estimation results from this study suggest that young people are most vulnerable to unemployment. Furthermore, with tougher economic conditions, some respond by undertaking education. In terms of magnitude, for both unemployment and education outcomes the impacts of economic conditions are stronger for males. This result is consistent with general observations that, by comparison with young women, young men are more likely to work in occupations that are more affected by business cycles. Males are more adversely affected by an economic downturn and thus have a stronger incentive to mitigate the effects through educational participation.
This research confirms previous research which shows that young people are more vulnerable than the older population to the impact of economic downturns on their employment opportunities, including unemployment. It also confirms that many young people respond to this by increasing their participation in education, with the response particularly strong in relation to secondary education. While the research also aims to quantify the extent of disadvantage for various population subgroups, it did not find sufficient evidence to form a view on the degree to which this relative vulnerability changes in poorer economic circumstances. However, it provides new estimates of the labour market and educational responses of young people which clearly demonstrate the greater sensitivity of young males to the economic climate.