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Why Is Youth Unemployment So Intractable in South Africa? A Synthesis of Evidence at the Micro-Level


South Africa is faced with persistently high youth unemployment levels, despite significant investments into a variety of Active Labour Market Programmes across the government, private and civil society sectors. The intractable nature of the challenge called for a systematic synthesis of evidence to better understand what contributes to the issue, and inform policy and programmatic direction. We undertook a systematic and robust synthesis of existing evidence published between 1994 and 2018 concerning the factors that contribute to this complex problem. This enabled us to consider evidence that exists within disciplinary siloes but rarely brought to bear simultaneously on the issue, consider where the balance of evidence lies and what gaps remain in our understanding of the challenge, and point to the important role that evidence synthesis methods can play in informing planning. A key finding is that emphasis remains on supply-side features of the labour market, with little attention paid to the behaviour of employers, and that the gendered nature of the labour market is poorly understood in relation to youth. The lessons learned from the South African context may be important when considering other middle-income contexts with similar youth unemployment challenges.

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  1. 1.

    The broad definition includes those who have given up looking for work.

  2. 2.

    South Africa has a broad definition of youth, which influences how data on youth is reported.

  3. 3.

    It should be noted that there were almost no articles identified from the 1990s, despite including these dates in the search.


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Correspondence to Lauren Graham.

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De Lannoy, A., Graham, L., Patel, L. et al. Why Is Youth Unemployment So Intractable in South Africa? A Synthesis of Evidence at the Micro-Level. JAYS 3, 115–131 (2020).

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  • Youth unemployment
  • Evidence synthesis
  • Active Labour Market Policies
  • Middle-income country
  • South Africa