China’s Youth in NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training): Evidence from a National Survey

Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
ANNALS, AAPSS, 688, March 2020 171
DOI: 10.1177/0002716220909807
China’s Youth in
NEET (Not in
or Training):
Evidence from
a National
909807ANN The Annals of the American AcademyChina’s Youth in NEET
This study aims to understand the prevalence and char-
acteristics of individuals aged 16 to 35 who are not in
education, employment, or training (NEET) and the
risk factors associated with being in NEET in China.
The analysis uses the 2012 China Labor-Force Dynamics
Survey to show that the NEET rate was 8 percent dur-
ing the study period. Multilevel logistic regression indi-
cates that women were more likely to be in NEET.
Married women and female migrants had significantly
higher risks of being in NEET, with migration having
opposite effects for men and women. Education had
protective effects against being in NEET, especially for
women. Age had a nonlinear effect, with individuals
aged 22 to 25 at the highest risk of being in NEET. I
discuss implications for public policy and directions for
future studies on NEET in China.
Keywords: youth; young adults; NEET; migration;
marriage; gender; China
Since the early 1990s, there has been a
dramatic decline in labor market participa-
tion, reflected by a decrease in the number of
those who are either employed or unemployed
but actively searching for jobs, among young
people around the world. The participation
rate has dropped from 59 percent in 1991 to
47 percent in 2014 (International Labour
Organization 2015). During the same period,
this decline in youth employment has been
severe in East Asia, where the proportion of
youth who are employed dropped from 76 per-
cent to 55 percent. The labor market transition
in China has contributed substantially to this
regional change due to its large young popula-
tion. On one hand, educational attainment
among Chinese youth has increased dramati-
cally in the past two decades, which
Yi Yang is a sociologist. Her research interests lie in
aging and health with a focus on cognitive impairment
and gender studies.
contributed to the decline of labor market participation of the young population.
On the other hand, since 2012, China has lost its demographic dividend due to
rapidly declining fertility since the 1970s.
Most studies on youth and labor focus on youth aged 15 to 24 (International
Labour Organization 2016b), but there may now be a need to increase the upper
age, such as to 29, due to the increase in years of education (International Labour
Organization 2015). This implies that the transition to adulthood has been pro-
longed as well, and these changes apply to the youth and young population in
China, too. Thus, a longer age span of 16 to 35 should be considered when study-
ing the transition to adulthood because 16 is the legal age for working in China,
and the majority of Chinese complete their transition to adulthood by age 35—
that is, they finish education, join the labor market, get married, and have
Little is known about the youth population’s employment status after they finish
education in China. Current literature on youth and labor mainly focuses on issues
of unemployment (Bai 2006; Schucher 2014). Based on the Minicensus-2005,
Schucher (2014) estimated that the youth (16 to 24 years old) unemployment rate
was about 9.48 percent in the urban areas in China. He further estimated, based
on the 2010 Chinese Census data, that youth unemployment constituted one-third
of total unemployment. However, this approach may underestimate the challenges
that young people experience in the labor market. The conventional definition of
the youth unemployment rate is the proportion of youth aged 15 to 24 who are
unemployed, including those who are actively looking for jobs but have not secured
a position. This definition does not differentiate between people who are active in
the labor market but temporarily unemployed and those who withdraw themselves
from the labor market and thus are not working for potentially longer periods of
time. It also fails to take into account the growing proportion of people in this age
group who are still enrolled in education programs (International Labour
Organization 2015).
The group of young people who are not in education, employment, or training
(NEET) deserves attention, as the NEET status exemplifies the vulnerability and
challenges that this group face, such as “unemployment, early school leaving, and
labor market discouragement” (International Labour Organization 2016b). Due
to lack of data, the global NEET trend is unclear, but there are large regional
differences (International Labour Organization 2006, 2012). The global NEET
rate is estimated to be about 21.8 percent among young people with a much
higher rate for females (34.4 percent) than males (9.8 percent; International
Labour Organization 2017).
Understanding the challenges of the NEET group is important because at the
individual level the NEET experience has a significant negative impact on one’s
transition to adulthood, in terms of joining the labor market, getting married, and
having children; and on one’s overall well-being (Henderson, Hawke, and Chaim
2017; Kosugi 2005). The high share of young people in NEET may have a nega-
tive influence on maintaining a sustainable and inclusive economy (International
Labour Organization 2017). Although NEET is an important phenomenon in
many transitioning societies, we know little about it. It is a neglected topic in
China, largely due to data limitations.

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