A recent report released by Lokniti-CSDS in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, which interviewed 6,277 youth aged 15-34 across 18 states in July-August 2021, offers insights on their career aspirations, job preferences and expectations, their opinions on institutions of kinship, and their mental health.
The occupational profile of India’s youth seems to have undergone a significant change over a decade and a half, with two-fifths (39%) identifying themselves as students. This is up by 7 percentage points since 2016 and 26 percentage points since 2007. Data also suggest that while more young men (39%) compared to young women (11%) were working, a higher proportion of young women (42%) were studying than young men (36%).
Age shows a clear relation with occupation. Close to four in five youth from the youngest cohort were studying and only 4% were earning, while close to half of the youth in the 18-24 group were studying and only one in five were earning. This indicates increased enrollment in higher education (Figure 1).
Youth identified ability-related characteristics (qualification, experience and communication) as important in finding a job. On a positive note, they were the least likely to consider identity-related factors to be playing a decisive role in getting a job (Table 1).
More than half (55%) said they would prefer a government job; a quarter (24%) would prefer to start their own business. If we compare these with findings from youth studies in 2007 and 2016, they indicate changing priorities. Five years ago, 65% preferred government jobs, which was three percentage points higher than a decade previously. Interestingly, there is a rising aspiration among the youth to start their own business (Figure 2).
One also notices a change in career aspirations. When the youth were asked about the occupation they would choose if they had the freedom to do so, the responses showed a rise from 3% to 17% among those wanting to join the health sector as doctors, nurses or other medical staff (Figure 3). A possible reason for this could be the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many youth are now marrying at a later age than before. The study indicates that the proportion of married youth has decreased by 13 percentage points since 2007 and five percentage points since 2016. In the present study, 42% said they are married (Figure 4).
Youth showed a greater acceptance for the idea of inter-caste marriage than for inter-religious marriage. However, while 61% supported inter-caste marriage and 30% opposed it, there is limited empirical evidence of this aspiration being translated into reality. The support for inter-faith marriage is still not widely accepted, with 45% of the youth favouring it and 42% opposing it (Figure 5).
The study found that the family’s financial security worried the youth the most, followed by their own health. About six in ten (56%) worried about their jobs, and more than half (54%) about their physical appearance.
More than 50% of the youth reported becoming angry over small matters. It is important to stress that these symptoms do not necessarily meet the criteria for any psychological disorder; this is just a reporting of responses. About half each reported feeling sad, losing interest in daily activities, and being affected by loneliness during the last two or three years. Also, those with high exposure to social media were found to be more emotionally distressed than those with low or no exposure.
Although the majority of the youth said that they have never experienced suicidal thoughts, close to two in ten (21%) did have such thoughts, either many times or sometimes in the last two to three years (Figure 6).
To a hypothetical question on whom they would approach if struggling with depression or thoughts of ending their life, 65% said they will approach either a family member or relatives — highlighting the importance of family in the Indian context — while 15% would approach friends. Only 3% said they would approach a mental health professional. The reason for this could possibly be social stigma and the negative stereotyping of people with mental health issues. What is worrisome is that 9% said they would not approach anyone.
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On the whole, the data indicate that India’s youth worry about a range of issues. This could be linked to the pandemic resulting in worsening financial and health worries. Youth also showed quite a few symptoms of emotional distress, but what is worrisome is that fairly large proportions have not sought medical help for these. It is important to ensure that there is general mental health awareness and also access to mental healthcare.