A Lost Generation? Young educated adults under economic crisis

Education is considered to be the remedy against social exclusion. Politicians and researchers alike regard early school leaving not only as a personal risk but also a major risk to Europe and its competitiveness in the world. However, under present conditions in Europe in general and in the so-called crisis countries like Spain in particular, there are signs indicating that even high education does not guarantee smooth integration into society. It is timely to ask, is Europe about to lose a generation of highly educated and competent young people and how big a risk is that to Europe? This project investigates (1) how contemporary economic crisis and its social consequences affect individual highly educated young adults’ life choices, and (2) how individuals adjust to and use the existing socio-economic frameworks to master their personal lives.

The data consists of (1) Young Spaniards’ personal accounts available in in El País electronic newspapers’ politics section under the title #nimileuristas (http://elpais.com) and in the website mileuristas.com. Writers telling their stories are mileuristas, young people who are under 35 and earn less than 1000 €. This material covers the year 2012; (2) Articles, expert analysis and commentaries concerning European youth under economic crisis published in 2012 in leading European newspapers available in English via Presseurope news website, in the Spanish newspaper El País and in Helsingin Sanomat the biggest Finnish newspaper.

Spain is analysed as the ‘crucial’ European case. Spain has suffered from the economic crisis since its beginning in 2008 and it has hit Spanish youth particularly hard. Currently, Spain is the only OECD member state where having a university degree does not guarantee better job prospects over non-graduates and the unemployment rate among the degree holders aged 25-34 is one of the highest in Europe. Spain makes a ‘crucial’ European case owing to the 2011-2012 protests (the 15-M Movement) and young people’s involvement in it. Spain serves as an extreme example of interconnectedness of economic crisis and its social consequences and individuals’ lives. It is a fruitful case to study how, even under difficult conditions, individuals claim their agency and effect the structures by their actions.

This project is intertwined with the project Decent Life and Sustainable Careers designed and carried out in collaboration with Senior Researcher Lea Henriksson at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.