1. Globalization, roughly defined as the global integration of economies and societies,a affects many aspects of young peoples’ lives. Youth have an ambiguous relationship with the globalizing world, both economically and culturally. On the one hand, they are most flexible and perhaps best able to adapt to and make use of new opportunities offered. They are the best educated generation on new information technologies; they benefit from economic growth; many travel around the world for work, studies, exchange projects and vacation; and telephone and the Internet enable them to stay in touch with friends and relatives abroad. On the other hand, many youth, especially in developing countries, have been left out of the digitalization and modernization process and lack the economic power to benefit from the opportunities globalization offers. Four effects of globalization on the lives of young people are discussed below in more detail; the distribution of employment opportunities, migration, youth culture and consumerism, and global citizenship and activism.
2. Globalization can be a powerful force for poverty reduction. Many countries have seen improvements in their welfare and educational systems as a consequence of globalization. Unfortunately, about 2 billion people live in countries that do not benefit from globalization, mainly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and the former Soviet Union.b These countries have seen a declining economic growth rate, loss of jobs, low incomes, and poor education and health provision. The income gap is widening not only between, but also within countries.
3. Globalization has substantially changed the job market, to which young people, as newcomers, are “most vulnerable”. New technologies have replaced manual labour, mainly affecting low skilled jobs in the service sector. Even in China, which has seen remarkable economic growth, the rate of unemployment is rising due to the ongoing transformation from agriculture to the less employmentintensive manufacturing and service industries, the reform of state-owned enterprises and the reorganization of the public sector. Trade liberalization forces companies to become more flexible and competitive. Many have become increasingly dependent on low-cost, flexible labour, often employed on an irregular basis. The outsourcing of sophisticated programming assignments and semi-skilled jobs in call centres to low-wage countries is perhaps the best known example of the global shift of employment opportunities for young people.
4. Migration, both within and between countries, is another aspect of globalization. Young people have always been a significant group among migrants. As foreign investment often creates job opportunities in the cities of host countries, rural workers move to the cities. In 2003, 48 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, and it is projected that over 50 per cent will do so by 2007.c In 2002, there were 175 million international migrants. On the basis of available immigration data, it is estimated that some 15 per cent, or 26 million, are youth.d Every day thousands of young people illegally try to pursue a life of fortune in a rich country, often motivated by unrealistic information and high expectations. A parallel industry of illicit travel agents, job brokers and middlemen has arisen, which directs the trafficking of these migrants. The past two decades have seen a dramatic increase in the trafficking of girls and young women, who are often lured into prostitution. Young women and girls who are impoverished, uneducated or from indigenous, ethnic minority, rural or refugee groups are most vulnerable to being trafficked.
5. Globalization has numerous consequences for youth cultures. The increase in media streams has resulted in global consumerism. Through television, music videos and movies, American and European-produced content is increasingly dominating entertainment around the world. Young people tend to adopt and interpret global products in terms of their own local cultures and experiences, thereby creating new hybrid cultural forms whose meanings vary with local and national circumstances. Many youth in developing countries, as well as marginalized youth in the industrialized world, are unable to fulfil their raised expectations of material wellbeing. This may result in alienation and frustration and, potentially, in crime and social strife.
6. Young people around the world show concern about the negative consequences of globalization, such as unequal distribution of wealth and environmental degradation. The anti-globalization movement has expanded all over the world and comprises a heterogeneous group of non-governmental organizations, student groups, political organizations and civil rights activists. The movement fights for various issues such as global justice, fair trade, debt relief, and sustainable development. Remarkable results have been achieved in the last two decades, including in the recognition of basic universal rights and in the prevention of global threats. Despite the presence of many active youth in the international arena, it may be argued that the diverse landscape of issues, opinions, interests and beliefs among young people hampers the emergence of a strong unified voice of young people and of a global youth and student movement.
7. In order to address some of the concerns related to migration of youth, young people need to have viable alternatives to remain in their countries. This means addressing root causes such as poverty, and by doing so, seeking to redress the inequalities between rich and poor nations. It also requires that young people are provided, through education and skills training, with the knowledge and confidence to become successful participants in the labour markets of their own countries.
8. Most migration data is not disaggregated by age. Data on the outflow and inflow of young nationals would be a useful supplement to an analysis of the global youth employment situation.
a. See World Bank, Globalization, Growth and Poverty: Building an Inclusive World Economy (Washington, D.C., and New York, World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2002).
c. See United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision (United Nations publication, Sales No. 04.XIII.6).
d. See estimate based on the average age composition of the 10 largest immigration countries; based on data provided by the United Nations Statistics Division.