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Better qualifications reduce chance of unemployment in your mid-20s

Released: 22 February 2012 Download PDF

Unemployment is high for people who have recently left education, regardless of their qualification, but by the age of 24 the chances of unemployment are lower for those with higher qualifications, a new report from ONS has shown.

In January-December 2011 around 26 per cent of 16-year-olds who had left school with only GCSEs were unemployed, as were 20 per cent of 18-year-olds who had left school with A-levels and 25 per cent of 21-year-olds who had left university with a degree. However, by the age of 24, 13 per cent of those with only GCSEs were unemployed, compared with 7 per cent of those who had left education with A-levels and just 5 per cent of those with a degree.

Unemployment for young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 in October to December 2011 stood at 1.04 million, the highest number since 1986/87. Of these, 307,000 were full-time students who were actively looking for work to go alongside their study. This accounted for around 30 per cent, up from 9 per cent in March to May 1992, mainly driven by more students in the youth population. The increase in full-time students has reduced the pool of young people who are not in full-time education. Therefore, the current level of youth unemployment excluding students, at 731,000, is the highest since the start of 1994 but lower than the peaks following the 1980s and 1990s recessions.

London was the region with the highest youth unemployment rate – with 24 per cent of economically active 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed in the period July 2010 to June 2011. However, because of its many universities it has a high proportion of young people studying rather than in the labour market, so that it does not have the highest proportion of all 16 to 24-year-olds unemployed – that is in the North East, with 15 per cent. The lowest unemployment proportion was in Northern Ireland, with 10 per cent.

Looking across the European Union, Spain had the highest youth unemployment rate, with 47 per cent of its economically active 15 to 24-year-olds unemployed in the third quarter of 2011. The lowest rate was in Austria, at 7 per cent. The UK rate was 22 per cent, in line with the EU average. The proportion of the total number of 15 to 24-year-olds who were unemployed was also highest in Spain, at 20 per cent. At 13 per cent, the UK was above the EU average of 9 per cent, while the lowest proportion was in Luxembourg at 4 per cent.

Data from the narrower measure of joblessness, the claimant count, shows what types of jobs young people claiming unemployment-related benefits are looking for. In January 2011 there were 484,000 18 to 24-year-olds who were claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance; of these around six in 10 were looking for jobs in sales or elementary occupations.  

A podcast giving more background on this analysis in available on the ONS Youtube channel at

Background notes

  1. There is a report on the ONS website at
  2. It is possible for people in full-time education to count as unemployed, for example if they are available for, and looking for, part-time work.
  3. The term ‘unemployment rate’ refers to unemployed people expressed as a percentage of the economically active population of that age group, whereas ‘unemployment proportion’ refers to unemployed people expressed as a percentage of the total population of that age group.
  4. Follow us on and on the ONS Youtube channel at
  5. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available from the media relations office.
  6. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. © Crown copyright 2012.


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