Fusion/Elena Scotti

Quietly, in February and March of this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit went to no fewer than 35 major cities on five continents, to conduct a huge survey of 5,250 young people (aged 18-25) from all around the world.

The survey was part of a project called Accelerating Pathways, which tries to work out how cities can best help their youth. But it's also invaluable as a snapshot of young people today, and how much (or how little) they differ depending on geography. For instance, it has become commonplace to bemoan enormous rates of youth unemployment, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe, and to start talking about a lost generation. But it turns out that young people, globally, are very optimistic about their economic prospects.

Overall, 2,170 of the people surveyed said they were "somewhat optimistic" about their economic future, and another 1,749 said they were "very optimistic." That's 75% of the total, compared to just 8% who were pessimistic. And the pattern persisted in areas of high youth unemployment: 80% were optimistic in Buenos Aires, for instance; 79% in Lagos; even 68% in Madrid. In Lima, none of the 150 young people surveyed said that they were "somewhat pessimistic" or "very pessimistic" about their economic future.

The world's youth are similarly united when it comes to helping others. Overall, some 46% of 18-25 year-olds engaged in some kind of philanthropy over the previous two years. Of those who did, 57% of them gave away money, food, or clothing and another 57% volunteered time to an organization that helps their city, community, or country. Curiously, the cities with the highest and the lowest amount of volunteerism—Bangkok and Taipei, respectively—are predominantly Buddhist.

Lots of young people around the world are still living with their parents: some 76% of them, overall. Hong Hong tops the list at 97%. The only cities where less than half of the surveyed 18-25 year-olds live with their parents were Washington and New York.

When it comes to whether and how young people work, however, differences between cities and countries are much greater. In New York, 82% of those surveyed are working, and nearly all of them are paid to do so; in Casablanca, by contrast, just 32% are working, and in Mexico City 11% of the workers don't get paid for what they do.

The amount of education young people have received around the world also varies widely. Global averages of 45% with an undergraduate degree and another 19% with a masters degree masks wide gaps between cities. (Tel Aviv is low not because Israelis are badly educated, but just because the compulsory military service means that they get their degrees later than young people in the rest of the world.)

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There were lots of other questions in the survey, ranging from respondents' level of education to why they chose their field of work to whether they've lived abroad. The survey is interesting because it not only offers a broad sense of how young people around the world are living, but also shows how an individual's financial life can vary based on where they live.