Tapping Latin America’s young potential

After years of strong performance, Latin America’s economies are facing a dimmer outlook. The region’s GDP growth will be negative for the second consecutive year in 2016, shrinking by between 0.9% and 1% in 2016, a contraction which has not been seen since the early 1980s. This slowdown has stalled the reduction of inequalities and the expansion of the middle class, with 25 to 30 million vulnerable Latin Americans at risk of falling back into poverty in the near future. 

Still, Latin America has plenty of untapped potential. The region is young, giving the continent an exceptional demographic opportunity. One quarter of the Latin American population–163 million citizens–are aged between 15 and 29. Though education in the region has improved in recent decades, two out of three young Latin Americans are still not equipped to meet labour market needs for sophisticated technical, professional and management skills. Some 50% of formal firms in Latin America and the Caribbean report having difficulty filling jobs, compared to 36% in OECD countries. The region particularly lags behind in terms of science students. Tertiary education students in Latin America are heavily focused on social sciences, business and law, averaging 39% across countries–from 25% in Chile to almost half of all students in Colombia. More worrisome is the share of young individuals in the region that are neither working nor engaged in education or training (NEET), which represents 21% of young people compared with 15% in the OECD area. Women are particularly disadvantaged, making up 76% of NEETS and occupying mainly unpaid jobs.

No wonder the latest Latin American Economic Outlook, jointly produced by the OECD, the United Nations Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC) and the Development Bank for Latin America (CAF), calls for investing in youth through better education, improved skills and entrepreneurship opportunities to foster economic growth.

The report also focuses on linking young entrepreneurs with business networks, and expanding managerial and financial training to allow Latin America’s young entrepreneurs to take advantage of global value chains.

OECD/CAF/ECLAC (2016), Latin American Economic Outlook 2017: Youth, Skills and Entrepreneurship, OECD Publishing 

©OECD Observer No 308 Q4 2016




Economic data

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría discusses the uncertainty in politics around the world, lack of proper skills for future jobs, global growth and US-Mexico relations.
  • Green Talks on 3D printing: 3D printing may be growing rapidly and innovations abound, but what does this mean for the environment? Click on the picture to join Shardul Agrawala of the OECD Environment Directorate on 27 February at 13:00 CET to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of widespread 3D printing.
  • How should pension systems account for gender differences and deliver equitable pensions for women and men? Do differences in financial literacy between men and women impact their long-term well-being? These are some of the questions to be debated at an OECD-hosted conference taking place on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017