Youth unemployment and violence

This literature review looks at whether there is evidence of a causal link between youth unemployment and violence in developing countries, focusing on crime, gang violence and domestic violence. It also looks at female youth unemployment, donor programming, and areas where more research is needed.

A causal link between youth unemployment and violence is widely assumed, but solid evidence of such a link is lacking. It is not that available data disprove a link but rather that there are insufficient data to establish a link.

However, some studies throw doubt on the presumed link by indicating that youth unemployment is only one of a mix of factors contributing to violence. Others could include weak governance, strong leadership offered by armed groups, availability of weapons, widespread drug use, dysfunctional family relationships and a culture of acceptance of violence.

The objectives of donors’ youth employment programmes vary: some aim to promote development and poverty reduction; others specifically aim to reduce armed violence. Youth employment also features in violence (crime) prevention programmes.

Irrespective of their goal, interventions under youth employment programmes are similar: skills development and vocational training, education, entrepreneurship promotion, changes in legislation/regulations to encourage youth employment, engagement with the private sector and public works schemes.

Common issues that emerge from assessments of donor youth employment programmes include the following:

  • Youth employment interventions that achieve the best results are part of a wider effort also tackling other issues such as youth rights and psychosocial needs.
  • Youth programming tends to be carried out piecemeal under diverse sectors rather than in a comprehensive and holistic way. Donors recognise this problem, but as yet have made limited improvement to implementation.
  • Programmes are based on an assumption that youth employment will reduce violence, but do not articulate the precise pathways through which this is thought to work.
  • There is a lack of detailed information on, and particularly evaluation of, donor youth employment programmes and their long-term impact.
  • Donors focus on supply-side measures and tend to neglect the demand side. This can lead to problems if supply-side interventions raise expectations that cannot be met.
  • Donors tend to neglect the informal economy.
  • There is recognition of the distinct needs of girls and young women, but this is not reflected in youth employment programming.
  • Constraints are imposed by the nature of development programming, such as fixed programme windows of three or five years, lack of flexibility and pressure on donors to disburse funds.

Suggested citation

Idris, I. (2016). Youth unemployment and violence: Rapid literature review. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.