Over 20% of Yemen’s population is aged between 15 and 24 and, according to UN estimates, by 2025 will have increased by 69% – the second fastest growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Yemen also has high rates of illiteracy and youth unemployment.
Lack of employment is considered to be one of the single most important and debilitating effects of population growth in the region. Many commentators argue that the phenomenon of large numbers of unemployed graduates demonstrates that education systems do not equip youth with the skills appropriate to making the transition into the labour market.
Another key issue for Yemen is illiteracy among women. Illiterate girls tend to marry early and bear children at a young age and often get caught in a cycle of low education, high fertility and poverty. Due to traditional and cultural norms, many women are kept out of the labour force altogether.
In general, governments with large youth populations are faced with the challenge of expanding basic services. In Yemen, this task is compounded by political volatility and shortages of water and other natural resources. Youth bulges can exacerbate pre-existing political and socioeconomic problems and it is argued that there is a strong link between youth economic prospects and social unrest, which can be fuelled by feelings of disenfranchisement and discontent.