The financial and social difficulties that young adults aged 18 to 29 face affect their financial, social and even their political decisions and have a knock-on effect on social development. The extent to which young adults’ needs are met is thus extremely important to the shape of society of the future. The lack of professional opportunities, the worsening of employment conditions and the problems of finding a home can lead these younger generations to feel excluded from a society that they regard as more and more unfair, which could contribute to a weakening of social cohesion. It should not be forgotten that difficulties in getting a job and the rise in insecure employment reduce the likelihood that they will be able to leave the family home and will lead to a fall in the birth rate against the backdrop of significant population ageing.
Ten indicators have been selected to measure the various social needs that affect young people’s financial and material wellbeing, their situation in the employment market, the difficulties they face in finding a home and their state of health. The results show that young adults in Spain are in a clearly worse position than the population as a whole in every area of social needs, apart from in some of the health indicators. As is natural, young adults enjoy a better state of health, though there are signs that many of them have unhealthy lifestyle habits. Their situation in the labour market is worse than that of the general population (Villar, 2014), implying, given the limited importance of financial benefits in their family income, that their level of financial and material wellbeing is also low. The economic crisis triggered a significant rise in the social needs of this group, for whom the recovery has been slow and inadequate in most of the selected indictors.
1. Financial and material wellbeing and the labour market
Young adults’ financial capacity is closely connected with their position in the labour market, their main source of income. Almost one in every four adults aged between 18 and 29 live in households that find it difficult to get by to the end of the month. This indicator is higher than that of the general population, demonstrating that there is a higher concentration of young adults in households suffering from financial pressure. The percentage of young adults who find it difficult to make it to the next payday began to rise at the start of the economic crisis, rising to 42.2% in 2014. In recent years, there has been a downward trend in this, with an improvement of ten percentage points in 2017 over the previous year. Young adults’ low pay and the rate of youth unemployment in part explain their inability to meet their basic needs, though the problem is attenuated by other household members in a better situation.
The rate of consistent poverty among young adults was lower than that recorded for the whole of the population in 2009. The economic crisis reversed this pattern, however: in 2014, 13.7% of young people were living in households at risk of financial poverty and material deprivation, whereas consistent poverty affected 11.6% of the total population. In part, this result is the outcome of young adults leaving the parental home at a later date, as well as the rise in the size of poorer households by accepting other members in financial difficulties (Herrero, Soler and Villar, 2013). In more recent times, consistent poverty has fallen slightly, affecting more than one in ten young adults in 2018.
Employment is, unquestionably, the aspect that presents most challenges in terms of young adults’ welfare. The lack of professional opportunities at the start of their working life may hold back the economic and social progress of this age group. In Spain, the high youth unemployment rate is very worrying: even though it was already at high levels prior to the recession (14.3% in 2008), it rose to as much as 41% in 2013. The economic recovery has reversed this trend, although in 2018 almost one in four young adults aged between 20 and 29 who could potentially be in work was unemployed. The Spanish labour market is noted for its structural segmentation between workers aged over 30, who are on permanent contracts, and young adults, among whom there is a high rate of temporary contracts (García-Pérez and Muñoz-Bullón, 2011). The crisis not only raised the youth unemployment rate but also increased the instability of their jobs. The percentage of young adults living in households where all the workers were on temporary contracts fell during the recession, but this was because people on this type of contract were driven into unemployment. However, even though the recovery has brought about an improvement in unemployment, the incorporation of young adults into the labour market has come about fundamentally through temporary employment. In 2018, 54.8% of employees aged between 20 and 29 were on temporary contracts, a percentage that drops to 26.8% for the total population. However, the fact that other members of the household are in a better employment position attenuates the differences within the family as regards temporary jobs.
Another indication of the job insecurity faced by Spanish youth is the low pay they receive. The percentage of young adults paid less than 2/3 of the average pay rose from 17.6% in 2006 to 22.4% in 2014, reflecting the fact that the labour market for individuals aged between 20 and 29 offers poor quality jobs and a larger proportion thereof than found among the total population. The incidence of low pay for the total population does not depend on the phase of the economic cycle, but for young adults the economic cycle is key. It is for this reason that the attention is drawn to the sustained rise over the last ten years in the number of low-paid workers among those aged 20 to 29. In-work poverty among this age group was lower than that among the general population prior to 2012, but between then and now, the percentage of young adults in work living in households below the poverty threshold has continued to rise, reaching 22.2%. This result demonstrates how young adults are concentrated in households with few working hours and in poor quality jobs that make it impossible for them to escape poverty.
Another of the most worry obstacles for young adults is the difficulties they face in finding a home. The increase in home purchase prices and rental costs is one of the greatest barriers for many young adults considering leaving the parental home. Around half of the people aged between 18 and 29 bearing the financial costs of a home spend more than 30% of their disposable income on it, be it as rent or as mortgage interest and capital payments, bills, etc. This is twice the amount of the indicator for the population as a whole. Moreover, the recession brought with it an increase in late rent or mortgage payments. In 2017, 6.8% of individuals aged between 18 and 29 who were heads of their household stated that they had made late rent or mortgage payments, as opposed to 3.8% of the total population.
3. Health and lifestyle habits
It is also important to study the results and evolution of health indicators in young adults in order to be able to identify possible factors that represent a risk to their future health. The percentage of people aged between 18 and 29 who suffer from obesity is much lower than the proportion in the total population, as young people do more physical activity and hence a smaller percentage of them have adopted a sedentary lifestyle. However, the obesity indicator shows a worrying upward trend: whereas 5.6% of young people had a BMI of over 30 kg/m2 in 2006, this percentage rose to 8.9% in 2017. This may be due to a failing in healthy lifestyles among this group: around 43% of young adults do not consume any fruit or vegetables on a daily basis.
On the other hand, there is a noticeable reduction in tobacco consumption, with an incidence among young adults that is quite a bit lower than among the general population. The percentage of individuals aged between 18 and 29 who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day fell by a third between 2006 and 2017, which seems to indicate that young adults are increasingly aware of the damaging effects of smoking on their health.
Mention must also be made of the importance of education to young adults’ professional and social development (for more information, see Report 5 on education). The school dropout rate in Spain is very high: one in five people aged between 18 and 24 who have not completed further secondary schooling do not continue their studies. Even though the economic crisis led to a reduction in this dropout rate due to the lack of employment opportunities for people with a low educational level, our country has one of the highest levels in Europe.
Do we have quality education? In this report we analyse three fundamental
dimensions: access to sufficient educational level, obtaining of adequate
knowledge to contribute to economic and social development, and degree of
inclusion of the education system.
Deprivations during childhood become unequal opportunities in adulthood.
Understanding the conditions in which this population segment lived prior
to the covid-19 crisis can help to prepare for the future.