Unemployment and poverty: How young India can deal with this double whammy Unemployment and poverty: How young India can deal with this double whammy
Nearly two-thirds of India’s current population of 1.34 billion people is below the age of 35. While this young demographic has the potential to... Unemployment and poverty: How young India can deal with this double whammy

Nearly two-thirds of India’s current population of 1.34 billion people is below the age of 35. While this young demographic has the potential to turn the country into an economic superpower in the next two decades, many leading economists believe that shortage of skilled labour in the current job market can shatter this possibility completely.   

There is no doubt that the Indian government is determinedly trying to resolve this issue by training/upskilling the unemployed through its programmes such as Skill India and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana and by creating more job opportunities through initiatives such as Make in India and Start-up India. However, much of the country’s potential workforce is still unemployable or unavailable and is expected to remain that way.

An in-depth study of this situation reveals that while on the surface India’s employment issue is due to “lack of opportunity and relevant education”, “lack of social and emotional intelligence” is what is really keeping many young Indians from progressing. This finding was also confirmed by a survey of 303 employers in India conducted by the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) in 2010 which showed that despite job opportunities a majority of graduates from the country simply lacked the “soft skills” to be employed.

Experts from across various industries also believe that unless the Indian government make efforts to provide/increase socio-emotional training programmes in schools, colleges, workplaces and other public facilities they will not be able to successfully tackle the current emotional health crisis of its youth and in turn, its growing unemployment and poverty problems.

Today on January 12, 2018, as we commemorate National Youth Day, let’s take a closer look at some of young India’s major emotional issues and their dangerous impact on their personal well-being as well as the progress of the country:


A recent ICICI Lombard survey revealed that around 60% of Indian youth show signs of depression. Moreover, a Lancet study on adolescent mental health worldwide in 2007 found that not only do mental disorders begin during youth (12–24 years of age), poor mental health is strongly related to other health and development concerns in young people, particularly to lower educational achievements.”

Whether at school or work, the increasing pressure to perform and excel usually in subjects/careers they are not interested in or to adhere to social or religious norms are some of the main reasons why many young Indians today are weighed down by depression and anxiety. This issue can in turn cause many young people from quitting the workforce or never joining it at all, which can then in many cases compound their depression and anxiety issues.

High-risk sexual behaviour

“Nearly 72% of sexually active young people (15-35) in India engage in unprotected sex” revealed a 2011 survey titled ‘Clueless or clued up: Your right to be informed about contraception’. Besides unprotected sex, several other studies on Indian youth also show that high-risk sexual behaviour such as sexual activity at a young age, money for sex and lack of sexual control (leading to sexual crime including sexual abuse/harassment by classmates and colleagues) is also highly prevalent in the country.

This is reflected in the increase in sexually transmitted diseases (31% of HIV afflicted people are from India as per NACO [National Aids Control Organization]) among Indian youth, teen pregnancies (11.8 million according to UNFPA), and perpetrators of sexual crime (one juvenile is arrested for rape every 4 hours in India as per crime data by union home ministry) in the country. This shows that high-risk sexual behaviour is severely hampering the education and job prospects (even permanently, in some cases) of many young Indians.

Suicidal tendencies

India has the highest suicide rate among youth in the world (35-40 per 100,000). Conversations with counsellors in the country reveal that “young people find it difficult to cope with failure in examinations and careers and neither families nor other social institutions offer adequate support or solace” (source: Hindustan Times). Self-harm is also reported to be the main cause of death among young women in India (study over 1990-2000 published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington). In an interview with BBC, Dr. Vikram Patel, a leading Goa-based psychiatrist and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine opined that “post-marriage problems for young women trigger off a lot of suicides (in the country).”

“More and more women are stepping out to work and aspiring to be independent and successful. But pressures of family, demands for dowry and domestic harassment push many young, married women over the edge in the country’s teeming cities and towns. Exposure to global media and education doesn’t match up to the realities at home. This is what I call the aspirational reality gap,” added Dr Patel.” (courtesy: BBC). Some of the major suicide warning signs include sleep problems, withdrawal from social activities, hopelessness, excessive sadness or mood swings among others, all of which can affect how well a young person will fare in school, college or at work or handle their personal finances. 

Bad money habits

An Indian Institute of Ahmedabad survey (sponsored by the Citi Foundation) in 2012 found that nearly one-third of young professionals in India could not perform simple numerical tasks to calculate interest and had no understanding of inflation or diversification of investments. Besides lack of financial awareness, data also suggests that young Indians are big spenders but poor financial planners, with the average Indian millennial (born 1980-2000) spending 69% of their income every month (out of which 50% is spent on family and EMIs).  

Poor money habits along with a consumerist culture and lifestyle driven by social media and technology have pushed many young Indians to live off credit cards without realising the long-term impact of these habits. To keep up with appearances many youngsters are now also willing to wait for high-status employment/flashy jobs or work long hours in order to gain salaries that can help meet their wants rather than their needs. Lavish spending also puts them at risk of not having an emergency fund or retirement fund for future.


A recent study by research agency IMRB and ParentCircle has revealed that “every third child is bullied in school”. The pan-India study covered 2,700 respondents, with parents and children in equal number (source: Times of India). Bullying in India sadly doesn’t stop at educational institutions but continues at the workplace, too. According to a survey by job portal CareerBuilder.in, about 55% of Indians have been bullied at their workplaces.

Data from a study conducted by the British National Child Development Study and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that childhood bullying can continue to damage a person’s mental and physical health long into adulthood, with victims likely to suffer from depression, ill-health and even joblessness over 40 years later. According to research published in the International Journal of Manpower, victims of bullying are also “likely to earn lower than average wages”.


India has been witnessing an alarming increase in drug addiction among Indian youth over the years. Government figures currently show that nearly 25% of the country’s drug users are below the age of 21. Besides huge monetary costs leading to financial issues, drug addiction can also reduce a user’s employment prospects because of lower education levels and productivity.

Drug addiction aside, studies (including a report by Indian Council for Medical Research) also show that India youth are currently grappling with an internet addiction problem, with nearly 24.6 per cent of adolescents in the country suffering from problematic internet use or internet addiction disorder (IAD). The psychological impact of internet addiction includes impatience, reduced creativity and memory issues. This is turn can severely affect a user’s interpersonal relationships, productivity levels, and academic and professional achievements.

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