Youth ages 15 – 24 that neither study or work have been given the name ninis in the Spanish-speaking world, the equivalent of the English term, NEET: a young person who is “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.” Help these youth integrate into society.
Medical advisors Juan Diego Tobón Lotero, psychologist
Hernando Bernal Zuluaga, Psychoanalyst
One of every five youth in Latin America, fall into this category: they neither study nor work. In Spanish, these youth are popularly referred to as ninis (ni estudia, ni trabaja) and account for over 20 million people in Latin America between ages 15 and 24, a figure from a study published by the World Bank in 2016. The study’s report explains that the most common way people become part of this group is by abandoning their studies to begin to work, often in the informal sector. Unemployment often follows as well as a lack of opportunities for working in the formal sector as a result of this lack of education.
It is a vicious cycle. While studies report that almost 60% of this group come from poor or vulnerable households, this situation is not exclusive to low socioeconomic sectors.
In another study conducted by the Development Bank of Latin America, in Colombia the “ninis phenomenon,” as the report referred to it, is at a rate of 20.6%. The report also proposes a concept that can serve as a foundation for analyzing other causes that lead to situations like these, “Adolescence the connection between childhood and adulthood is a unique time in life when people make the transition between the educational system and the job market. Instability is not unfamiliar to this transition period and is part of the need people have to adapt and discover during each new stage of life”.
Hernando Bernal Zuluaga, professor of the Psychology and Psychoanalysis Program at Luis Amigó University in Medellin, says that this is a modern issue, “…that has become exacerbated this century. It’s like a symptom of contemporaneity or a symptom of society, if you will”. According to Bernal, questions need to be asked that delve beyond the causes of a lack of opportunity or economic shortcomings.
“We have to ask what is happening with our society, what is happening with our families, and especially what is happening with what psychoanalysis calls ‘paternal function,’ which sort of keeps the family in order and helps exert an authority that leads to responsibility getting passed onto its members including children, of course. What is going on that makes paternal function appear as if it is not working?”.
In Bernal’s opinion, these issues need to be brought up because “…someone ends up having to support these kids,” a situation that many of them “get used to,” setting them up for a situation where they do not want to study or work even more. “If you think about the first half of the last century, this almost never happened or was rare, as the children were responsible for studying or working. Even if the child did not study, the father would send them to work”.
If you were to ask several groups of youth from different socioeconomic sectors and different public and private schools if they had ever thought of quitting their studies at some point in their lives, explains psychologist Juan Diego Tobón, most would say “yes.” But not all drop out or opt out of the working world.
Beyond being a socioeconomic issue, the ninis phenomenon also seems to be related to a vital and existential phenomenon: “disillusionment with the standards for adult life, a lack of credibility among the rhetoric of established institutes and the establishment of new parameters of modern pleasure (hedonism). This has become more critical throughout the last decades, but it is not a global or all-encompassing phenomenon. There are hundreds of thousands of youth that clearly enjoy school and work life that develop pathways for their lives and are greatly motivated, both internally and externally.
The individual factors of each person also influence this situation: “While those in upper socioeconomic sectors 5 and 6* may experience factors that discourage them, those living in disadvantageous situations may experience factors that encourage them. There will always be an issue that must be understood in different ways and from an endless variety of perspectives.”
Fixing this phenomenon is a societal commitment. For families and parents that do not manage to pass the responsibility of their children’s future onto them, that do not encourage their children to think about what they will to do, or about what type of profession they want to have, Hernando Bernal Zuluaga invites them to give this issue some thought. Many “… parents have turned into providers and spoil and please their children too much. Why would they want to study or work? They are comfortable where they’re at.”
As Juan Diego Tobón states, it is crucial for social networks to be created among parents, schools and society: “The development of youth doesn’t just suddenly happen; they are also a product of the opportunities adults have created for them. And more than being ‘our fault,’ the way they approach things has to do with how we interpret the world and create a reality. It’s a group effort.”
While a case by case analysis would need to be done, the majority of these youth do not think of the future or of planning, but of living day by day, as the specialists suggest. They may experience the social pressures of not working or studying, but depending on their personal situation, they do not manage to move beyond that, or put things off because it’s easier or because of a lack of opportunities. They often prioritize enjoying the here and now over the future.
Ninis are a sign of social transformation that has an impact on two spheres of development: education and employment. Whether because of socioeconomic reasons, disillusionment with what life has to offer, or any other reason that leads them to veer away from these two spheres, work must be done for them to develop their potential and bridge the gap. Let this be an invitation to think of ourselves as individuals, as family and as society •
Colombia uses a number system for categorizing socioeconomic sectors that ranges from 1-6 (low to high).
A new “work” order
Families should pay attention to the interests youth have; if they are motivated about any type of work endeavor, it is best to support them. It may be a reality, as Hernando Bernal Zuluaga points out, that many think about becoming business professionals and earning a fortune without the skills to do so, “while there may be situations of this happening, there are very few of them.” For Juan Diego Tobón, we need to regain society’s trust in life and continue developing alternatives to be together. “It is important to continue to support the act of self-questioning, as it often appears that the outside world is what needs to be changed, when really, we need to change how we see ourselves and our reality”.
66%of ninis are women, according to figures from the World Bank.